Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A noble cause - the survival of Britain's pubs

Pubs are so important to the fabric of social life in Britain that all the political parties in the UK General Election battle are promising to help preserve this everyday institution where it is threatened.
Numbers are under pressure. There are around 52,000 pubs in the UK; that’s one for just over 1,000 per head of population. Last year pubs were closing at the rate of more than 50 a week. The latest figures suggest a fight back and the closure rate has been trimmed to about 39.
This is because pubs are responding to the threat of the recession, higher taxes, and dearer beer supplies.
In cities pubs are stepping up their efforts to increase income. Special offer menus are being extended from breakfast to closing time; music and comedy nights added; and where sport is the attraction, the latest technology including 3D TV is being introduced. One pub in London’s Kilburn area has seen a small opera company successfully installed in its upstairs room. More customer traffic, of course, boosts drinks sales.
Where a metropolitan pub fails, there is usually a nearby rival waiting to benefit. But for some village communities the closure of the last pub would mean the loss of the only local meeting point. This is why the political parties are talking about support for co-operatives where villagers are encouraged to buy their failing pubs.
Most of the licensing changes that have happened in recent decades have received general support from the British public. The laws that required pubs close for a few hours in the afternoon were repealed to general benefit.
Allowing children to sit with their parents rather than on the pub doorsteps was a sensible move. It took too long to ban smoking but now it is prohibited throughout the UK. The prohibition hurt the pubs but they responded well providing smoking areas and, where they existed, improving gardens to the advantage of smokers and non-smokers alike.
The Government’s big mistake – which was exploited more by bars and clubs than pubs – was to relax drinking hours. The idea that we could transplant a continental style drinking culture into the UK was doomed. All it meant was that instead of loutish binge drinkers hitting the weekend streets at 11pm, they now do so at 3am.
In defence of British drinkers I would say that most pubs are not part of the problem. As for the bars and clubs that are, they have to deal with youngsters who arrive already drunk on cheap supermarket booze.

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