Rather alarming news from the British Beer and Pub Association that beer sales have slumped by almost 10% in the past few months, including a 15% fall in supermarkets. In detail, the BBPA stated that pub sales were down by 4.5% in the three months to June as beer tax and VAT rises wiped out the positive impact of the warm weather and the royal wedding, and in the year to June, beer sales were down by 7.1% as the various tax rises added 10p to the price of a pint in pubs. More details can be found here.
As these reductions have happened this year, the smoking ban introduced four years ago cannot be held responsible, although I shouldn't be surprised if those who see the ban as the cause of all the pub industry's woes will still find a way of blaming it. A more balanced assessment would include factors such as beer tax increasing at more than the rate of inflation, 20% VAT and the effects of the recession on people's jobs and levels of disposable income.
It's clear that giving the public extra bank holidays to mark royal weddings and jubilees are in the long term of little economic value; the 'feel good' factor soon wears off. A sustainable economy cannot be achieved by one-off royal celebrations, nor indeed by sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics; it's like giving occasional teaspoons of water to someone dying of thirst - it solves nothing and does no more than keep them going just a little bit longer.
The effects on the pub industry are highly visible to any who care to look: pubs that used to be packed may still be fairly busy, but have lost trade nonetheless, and pubs that weren't so busy are facing lean times. Southport where I live is supposed to be a holiday resort, but many of the local pubs are almost empty at the height of summer, which should be their peak time, and I fear that some may close. This is true of a lot of businesses - a local builder's yard employing quite a few staff recently said they had done £18 worth of business in a morning, considerably less than the wages bill for that day. Many businesses are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, and sooner or later some will have to give up the struggle. Pubs, being subject to especially vindictive tax increases, are even more vulnerable to the malign effects of current austerity measures, which are nothing more than a form of economic anorexia.
It's no good politicians supporting campaigns to save the pub and setting up parliamentary beer groups if they then vote for the harmful taxation policies that are helping destroy pubs across the land. Hypocritical tears over pints of subsidised ale in the Strangers Bar will not prevent the closure of a single pub.