Cheap booze is the reason for pub closures in the North East, according to a new survey

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office,
Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office,

Cheap supermarket booze is killing off North East pubs, a new survey has found.

Low cost supermarket drink, rather than alcohol taxes, is the main reason why pubs are closing, according to a major new survey of North East landlords - while few have seen any benefit from tax cuts in alcohol duty over recent years.

Those are two of the main findings from a major survey of 200 publicans who were asked for their views on why British pubs are under pressure, future prospects for their business, and what landlords think the Government could do to tackle alcohol harm while helping our pubs to flourish.

The survey was commissioned by Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, and carried out by independent researchers.

With 70% of alcohol sold in the North East now bought from supermarkets and off licenses, it found cheap alcohol in supermarkets and off licenses was the top reason given by landlords as to why they think pubs are closing. Plus 67% say drinking patterns have changed in recent years, including customers coming out less and more customers pre-loading.

While three out of four landlords said increasing supermarket alcohol prices would help tackle alcohol harm, and 64% say it is the best way the Government could support the pub trade.

Just 4% of landlords named taxes on alcohol as one of the main causes of pub closures while 89% said that recent cuts in alcohol duty had not helped their business. Just 7% said cuts in alcohol tax have helped.

Cuts on alcohol duty are often presented as a high profile measure to help pubs, but analysis by the Institute of Alcohol Studies has found they instead accelerate the shift towards supermarkets, making it harder for pubs to compete. Price comparisons for August 2018 show it is possible to buy 30 cans of 4.8% premium lager for £21 from one major supermarket - just 70p a can.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East Alcohol Office, said: “Britain’s pubs are clearly under pressure and we wanted to hear what local landlords are feeling. Too often the reasons for closures are put forward by multinational alcohol producers who have as much of a stake in selling it from supermarkets as in protecting the British pub.

“Landlords are clearly feeling the impact of cheap supermarket and off license alcohol, and they want something done about it. One of the patterns they have seen over recent years is fewer people coming out and more people pre-loading with cheap alcohol.

“The message is clear: it seems alcohol tax cuts are not passed down to pubs or their locals, and landlords want a more even playing field with supermarkets. One way to close that growing gap between on and off trade would be the introduction of a minimum unit price for alcohol in England.”

In 2017 alcohol duty was cut in real terms for the fifth year out of six. It has been calculated these policies will have cost the Treasury £8.1 billion by 2023 – enough to pay for either 34 million emergency ambulance call outs, 52,000 social care packages for older people, or 60 million hospital outpatient appointments.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, a liver physician and chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance, said: “At a time when our NHS is facing funding pressures and the Government has promised the NHS an extra £20.5 billion by 2023/24, the question is why we have seen several years of tax giveaways to the alcohol industry.

“This survey highlights very clearly that alcohol tax cuts have conferred little benefit onto pubs. At the same time, cheap alcohol is continuing to cause a toll of death and disease in England, with liver disease still the only major cause of death that is increasing year on year and at an alarming rate.”

The survey comes as major beer and alcohol producers lobby the government to cut alcohol duty further, even though only 4% of North East landlords in the survey blamed alcohol taxes for the closure of pubs.