Pubs in Fife under more pressure than ever to survive

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New figures show in stark reality how much the pub trade in Fife is dwindling.

A report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reveals that one in five pubs across the region closed in the last decade.

There are now around 195 pubs and bars in Fife, an estimated 45 fewer than in 2008.

The trend is reflected across Scotland, where 18 per cent of pubs and bars have closed in the last ten years, leaving just 2,840 nationwide.

The ONS’s Economics of Ale report shows that there are 11,000 fewer pubs and bars nationwide than before the 2008 recession, but the turnover of the pub industry has remained strong, as larger chains focus on bigger bars at the expense of smaller pubs.

While the number of establishments has declined, there are more employees working in pubs than there were ten years ago.

The report suggests this may be because surviving pubs have moved onto offering more labour-intensive services such as food or accommodation.

In 2008, the average pub in the UK employed five people. Now, the figure stands at eight and in Fife, a similar trend has been seen, with the average pub employing five staff in 2018, up from four in 2008.

Alongside this, there has been a rise of 17 per cent in the total Fife pub workforce, to 1750 this year.

In total nearly a quarter of the UK’s pubs shouted their last orders since 2008, and now the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) says communities are suffering as small local pubs are lost.

CAMRA is calling for reform to business rates and cuts in beer duty to help tackle the loss of pubs.

It also wants a full review of the Pubs Code, which governs the relationship between firms who own 500 or more pubs and their tenants.

Tom Stainer, CAMRA’s chief campaigns and communications officer, said: “These shocking figures show the huge loss that has been felt by communities up and down the country as beloved locals have closed down.

“By focusing on the stability of turnover from pubs and bars since the recession this study fails to measure the loss of the benefits that local pubs bring to their communities.

“Pubs play a unique role in offering a social environment to enjoy a drink with friends, they help combat isolation and loneliness and help people feel connected to their community.”

Mr Stainer called on the Government to take action, saying the future of pubs in the UK are seriously under threat.

“With a quarter of pubs closing in the last decade, we need the Government to act now to save our pubs from extinction,” he said.

Tom Johnston, secretary of Fife Licensed Trade Association, is backing the call, saying, “We totally agree with CAMRA.

“Small pub owners have been facing a perfect storm for years.

“They have been hit hard by the smoking ban, changes to the drink driving laws and increases in the minimum wage and living wage levels.

“Many now face crippling rates increases. The licensed trade is virtually the only industry whose rates are based on turnover as opposed to size.”

Mr Johnston said the way in which pub owners business rates are calculated is unfair.

“We can point you to towns in Fife where the only businesses paying rates are those selling alcohol,” he said.

“At the moment those who have held personal licences since the beginning of the new regime are having to undergo training and renew these licences at a cost of several hundred pounds per person. What other trade has this burden?

“And, come election times, politicians claim that they are trying to reduce the burden of red tape on small businesses.

“We have a number of initiatives which can save money for our members, but it’s desperately hard out there.”

John Wilson, owner of Betty Nicol’s on Kirkcaldy High Street, said that the decline in pubs is clear to see.

“I don’t think people have as much disposable income as they used to,” he said, “and those who do are being very careful where they spend it.

“The smoking ban had an impact but I think what made an even bigger one on pubs was changes to the drink driving regulations.

“Most pubs used to have a good tea time trade, that’s nearly nonexistent now until a Friday.”

John has been in the licensed trade for almost four decades and is in his fourth year as the owner of the popular pub.

“We’ve put 40 per cent on to our turnover since we took it over but it’s very, very challenging,” he said.

“For the year ahead we need to look at our margins. Costs are going up again, that’s what we’re hearing from suppliers.

“I don’t think the market would take us passing those increases on to our customers so we’re going to have to absorb a lot of costs which right way cuts into your margins.

“At the same time the council is putting up our rates – by 50 per cent last year – and we pay the Living Wage, which is also going up. So two of your biggest costs , plus your actual cost of product, are going up at a rate which we can’t pass on to the customer, therefore you’re going to make less profit.

“I’m not going to cut any of my staff. We need them to deliver the quality of service.

“Irrespective of our margins, I won’t do it, but it’s the thin end of the wedge.”