There was a time when the Friday night pub crawl was a rite of passage for every 17-year old carrying his uncle's ID. An increasingly meandering yomp between five pubs then home, via a kebab van, to cheese on toast and three rounds of Mortal Kombat.
Even those simple times have seen great change in the past three years. The number of pubs being demolished or converted for 'other uses' has risen by more than 50 per cent. It's not the same to move between the erstwhile Kings Head to the White Lion now they have become a nail bar and an immersive experience escape room respectively. What has happened? Covid? A fundamental change in the way Britons loosen up to vomit on the pavement and again in the bus shelter?
Let us set some perspective. There are almost 39,500 pubs in Great Britain. Last year 386 of them were demolished or converted, whereas in the first six months of 2023 already 383 have suffered the same fate. This will give the group lobbying for the abolition of business rates for the sector and beyond greater mettle and another string of good argument to their bow that already inspires a pretty good tune.
The Government say they are already planning a reform of business rates, when they are re-elected in 2038, and have offered a softener in the meantime, with £13.6 billion of tax cuts over the next five years. Much of this has to do with freezing the business rates multiplier, meaning that rates will no longer increase in line with the elevated rate of inflation in the spring. However, Alex Probyn of the Altus Group (who know a lot about real estate) said over the weekend, as he supped his pint of nutty real ale and tucked into a delicious clam bake: “With energy costs up 80 per cent year-on-year in a low-growth, high-inflation and high-interest-rates environment, the last thing pubs need is an average business rates hike of £12,385 next year.”
Pubs currently get a 75 per cent discount on their business rates bills for the 2023-24 tax year, up to a cap of £110,000 per business. Inexplicably, JD Wetherspoon reported that their like-for-like sales rose 13.1 per cent in the 25 weeks to January 22, but were 0.7 per cent lower than the same period before the pandemic. Just down the road Stonegate, Britain’s biggest pubs company, said it was looking to sell 700 to 800 of its 4,492 pubs as it tried to reduce a £3 billion debt.
The upshot is that kids no longer plan to open a pub to realise their vocational dream, but look hungrily instead at potentially expanding their sister's mobile nail bar business.