Biased BBC: Curious case of the forgotten smoking ban

The BBC is guilty of 'churnalism' once again as the smoking ban is completely ignored as a cause of Britain's boarded-up pubs

Closed - for good.
David Atherton
On 14 January 2013 13:13

While the beards and sandals of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) are choking on their Bishops Finger, many of Britain’s bankrupted pubs are being turned into either flats or convenience stores and the politicians are hand wringing. Toby Perkins, Labour’s Shadow Business Minister, said, "Britain's pubs are economically vital." 

This week, the BBC reported on pub closures: “Sadly, the corner pub is now boarded up and getting derelict day by day. Over the last four years 5,800 pubs - like the Castle - have closed down. Last year alone, pubs were shutting at a rate of 18 a week.”

The BBC, along with the others, is blaming high taxation on beer; even in the Midlands they are paying £3.50 a pint; tenants in pubs are subject to the ‘beer tie’, i.e. obliged to get their beer from a pub company (PubCo) at inflated prices; punters are said to be turning to supermarkets. I am sure none of this helps and tied pubs are at a disadvantage for sure.

But take a closer look at pub closures from 2001 to 2010. (Figures from the British Beer and Pub Association who report on 95 percent of UK pubs)

2001 – 100 (pubs closed)

2002 – 600

2003 – 700

2004 – 400

2005 – 400

2006 – 400

2007 – 1,409

2008 – 1,973

2009 – 1,352

2010 – 1,466

Being the sad numbers man I am I have worked out that from 1980 to 2006 the average number of pubs closed per year were 0.65 percent. Post 2007 that figure climbed to 2.8 percent, a fourfold increase. It is reasonable to conclude therefore that something happened in 2007 – something the BBC, CAMRA, and the politicos’ research departments are missing.

The answer may well be that rather large mammal moving from the public bar to a draughty shelter outside – the grey one with the long nose and big ears, lighting up. Of course, the elephant (sporadically) in the room is the smoker, last seen lighting up inside in England on June 30th, 2007.

I am in no doubt that the ‘beer tie’ is a weight around publican’s necks – its origins go back to The Supply of Beer (Loan Ties, Licensed Premises and Wholesale Prices) Order 1989, commonly known as the Beer Orders. Baroness Thatcher wanted to break up the monopoly of the brewers. It is hardly a new phenomenon.

The supermarkets have been mentioned; but, post ban, Britain’s supermarkets did not suddenly discount alcohol. On the March 28th, 2007, three months before the smoking ban, Ian Loe, Research and Information Manager of CAMRA, wrote to the Competition Commission and whined: “Research by CAMRA in the period just before Christmas found that supermarkets were selling Fosters and Carling lager for the equivalent of 54p a pint.” Yet, in 2006, Tescos sold a bottle of Red Smirnoff Vodka 70cl for £9.79 whereas today it is £15.90 – more than a 50 percent increase. Similarly, 4x 500 ml cans of Fosters were sold for £3.53 in 2006, today they will set you back £5.00; a bottle Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet 75Cl was then £4.73 and now £7.49.

The credit crunch of 2008 has been blamed too. And again, it has certainly played its part. But not citing the smoking ban as the primary reason for pub closures is negligence.

If you want conclusive proof of the effects of the smoking ban look no further than the Wetherspoon chain’s pre-ban experiment.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) was saying pre-ban that non-smokers were longing for smoke-free pubs, and, in February 2003, that “Smoking bans are good for business. Study shows hospitality industry fears of falls in trade are unfounded.” But in 2005 JD Wetherspoon did give the punters a choice. In newly opened pubs smoking was banned; others were converted into smoke-free and it was to be rolled out to their entire 630-strong chain.

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