Why South Shields pubs are struggling - and the South Tyneside landlord who wants supermarkets banned from selling booze

A well-known South Tyneside publican has called for supermarkets to be banned from serving booze – and off-licences to become the sole high street seller – as a way to protect pubs from closure.

By Gareth Crickmer
Thursday, 01 August, 2019, 11:45
Landlord Norman Scott

Norman Scott, 57, tenant of Dougie’s Tavern, in Hebburn, said it was one possible way to put the brakes on the rising tide of pub shut-downs in the borough in recent years.

We reported in 2018 how 14% of the borough’s pubs and clubs had closed their doors since 2010, and since then other notable names have also vanished.

Recent years have seen closed pubs becoming new businesses, including supermarkets, bookmakers and even a nursery.

Pulling a pint

Mr Scott, whose career in hospitality began in 1984, claimed the sector was unrecognisable from 20 years ago due to changing drinker habits – and the high costs of running a pub.

He said supermarkets which sell cheap alcohol were at a huge advantage, which had led young people to skip pubs to drink at home, then head to nightclubs.

National pub chain Wetherspoon backed his stance, saying pubs suffered a severe VAT penalty compared to supermarkets.

Mr Scott said: “The overheads of running a pub are massive – we should ask why supermarkets are allowed to sell big pallets of booze when they should be selling pallets of beans and bread.

The Harbour Lights, Lawe Road, is one of the pub's to close this year. It is looking for a new landlord.

“We should stop supermarkets from selling alcohol, only off-licences should be allowed to do it, that used to be the way.

“If you wanted a drink other than at a pub, that was where you went. They were expensive and you knew that you had to pay. This could be one way of helping pubs.

“It’s a very sad state of affairs at the moment, and there are other factors, such as high gas and electric costs, and Sky Sports is very expensive.

“These days, kids know all about money. Why would they pay £3 for bottle in a pub when they can get 24 for £12 from a supermarket?”

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‘Like skittles, they all fall down’

Mr Scott spoke out amid the closure of dozens of pubs in South Tyneside in the past decade.

They include the West Park, The Mariner and The Beacon, all in South Shields, and The Alkali and Allison Arms, Jarrow.

He said the smoking ban had also impacted negatively - and predicted the age of live bands in boozers may soon come to an end due to booking fees of up to £500.

And he added: “It’s a massive gamble for a pub to book a band, the lowest price will be £250 – you need to be making four times your costs to break even.

“Like skittles, it will all fall down and there will be nowhere for them to play. It’s a numbers game, it can be ok if you have a big brewery behind you.

“Pubs used to be the centre of the community. If you lost your job, you’d go to the pub – the next day, you’d have a new job.

“It could be finished unless there’s a big turnaround in the next five years – the government doesn’t want people in pubs because of its health kick.”

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “At present, all food and drink in pubs is subject to 20 per cent VAT, compared with supermarkets which benefit from zero rate VAT on all food.

“As a result, supermarkets are able to use that saving to sell alcohol at a discounted price.

“Pubs suffer a huge disadvantage paying about 16p in business rates per pint versus about two pence for supermarkets.

“In addition there is a huge VAT inequality and unfairness. A reduction in VAT for pubs would create a level playing field on this issue.”