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Pub numbers are finally rising — but small locals are still at risk

·Finance and policy reporter
File photo dated 28/08/18 of spirits in a pub. New research suggests trade in pubs has withstood the lowering of the drink-drive limit in Scotland.
Pub closure rates are easing, figures suggest. Photo: PA

Pub numbers have begun to rise in the UK after a decade of closures, a new analysis of official figures suggests.

But pub campaigners warned independent and smaller pubs were still closing down at an alarming rate, with larger pub groups driving most of the growth.

British pub numbers have been dwindling for years, with an average of 730 more pubs closing than opening every year between 2010 and 2018.

But a report suggests new figures could “signpost a reversal of fortunes,” with 320 more pubs opening than closing over the past year.

It comes the day after the pub giant Wetherspoon (JDW.L) announced more than £200m ($262.7m) of investment over the next four years, promising 10,000 new jobs.

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Chairman Tim Martin said a “large proportion” of the cash will boost pubs in smaller towns and cities that have seen declining investment in recent years.

The latest ‘Raising the bar’ report by Stampede, a startup offering digital services to hospitality firms, showed the number of pubs owned by firms with turnover of between £0.5m and £1m increased by 205 over the past year.

Chairman of Wetherspoons pub chain, Tim Martin is seen during an interview in London on June 14, 2016. At popular British pub chain Wetherspoon, the EU referendum debate is hard to avoid -- it's in the magazine given out to customers, on the company website and even on special anti-EU beer mats. / AFP / BEN STANSALL / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY DARIO THUBURN        (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Chairman of Wetherspoons Tim Martin. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

The number owned by firms with higher turnover of between £1m and £2m also rose by 125 in a year.

But Stampede found Britain suffered a net loss of 55 pubs among firms with turnover of less than £100,000, suggesting many smaller independent locals are still suffering.

Even the capital London saw an overall net loss of 10 pubs over the year, according to the analysis. Growth was said to be strongest in the north-east and the West Midlands.

Licensed clubs also continued their decline, with numbers dropping from 7,610 to 7,420.

Nik Antona, chair of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said: “We welcome this data that shows a slight increase in the number of open pubs nationally.

“Unfortunately pubs continue to close, particularly in small or rural communities. This means the loss of the social, cultural and economic benefits that come with a well run local.

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“To ensure pubs survive and thrive, they need a fair tax system and stability going forward. CAMRA will be urging whoever forms the next government to ensure reform of the business rates system and a lower rate of tax on beer served in pubs are a priority."

Patrick Clover, CEO of Stampede, added: “The pub trade has had very little to celebrate in the last decade, but I’m sure they’ll raise a glass to these new numbers.

“Pubs have a hugely important place in our society both socially as well as economically, being one of the UK’s biggest employers. The reduction of pubs over the last decade has been heart-breaking, following devastating changes to business taxes and alcohol duties, but I hope these figures signpost a reversal of fortunes.”

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