More than 150 pubs closed for good in England and Wales during the first three months of this year as soaring energy bills and other costs pushed many operators over the edge.
Analysis of official government data by the commercial property firm Altus Group found that 51 pubs were lost each month in the first quarter of 2023 – almost two a day.
That compares with 32 pubs a month disappearing on average across last year, and takes the overall number of pubs in England and Wales by the end of March, including those vacant and being offered to let, down to 39,634.
However, the fear is that the rate of closures will only accelerate, in part because the government’s energy support package has been hugely scaled back from the start of this month.
Simon Cleary, who runs the Plough at Great Chesterford, near Saffron Walden in Essex, said he reluctantly took the decision to shut his doors at the end of April after his gas and electricity bills almost tripled from £13,000 a year to £37,000 a year.
“Initially we were very upset, but honestly, that’s more turned into relief now. It’s got to a point where it’s become unprofitable, and for the last few months we have been unable to pay ourselves a wage, meaning we have been working for nothing. We just can’t carry on with these bills.”
Cleary, who has run the 150-year-old pub for the last five years, said his January gas bill alone was more than £2,100 compared with £460 for the same month a year earlier. He will hand the lease back to the pub’s owner, Greene King, and it will be up to that firm to decide whether the pub will reopen under new management.
“We are lucky in that we have somewhere else to go. Lots of landlords lose their home as well when their business fails,” Cleary said.
The British Beer and Pub Association has warned that the average energy bill for a pub will rise by £18,400 a year from the start of this month, after the government made its support scheme for firms less generous. Last month the association said it feared 2,000 pubs and 25,000 jobs were at risk. In 2022, 386 pubs closed.
Alex Probyn, the president of property tax at Altus Group, said: “Pubs have seen their values for the business rates tax fall 17% overall and, with measures taken at last year’s autumn statement, that will mean a tax saving of £5,500 for the average pub.
“But that simply won’t compensate for the energy support being lost, making plots even more attractive for alternative investment.”
He said pubs cease to be recorded in government data once they have been demolished or converted to other types of use such as homes, offices or even day nurseries.
The energy bill relief scheme announced by Liz Truss last September offered £18bn worth of discounts to all businesses between October and March. However, its replacement, the £5.5bn energy bills discount scheme, which started in April, has massively reduced the number of firms qualifying for help.