08 September 2011

The local pub trade is facing an uncertain future as many publicans reach breaking point in their struggle to cope in the current climate, according to the latest findings from Pubs of Ulster’s annual survey of its members across Northern Ireland.

The Pubs of Ulster State of the Industry Survey 2011, which sought the opinions of publicans on the key issues affecting the industry, worryingly revealed that over two thirds (67 per cent) of those surveyed have seen business fall by some degree in the last year.  This consequently led to 34 per cent having to lay off staff and 62% being forced to reduce staff hours.  Looking ahead, many of those surveyed are preparing for this trend to continue with 22 per cent anticipating staff layoffs and over half (52 per cent) expecting to reduce staff hours.  Against this worrying backdrop, 210 pubs (14 per cent) are currently seeking to sell their business with a further 120 pubs (8 per cent) anticipating closure.

Commenting on the survey, Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster said:

“The findings from our survey unfortunately show the true state of the pub industry in 2011 and confirm what we and many publicans have feared-the industry is in serious trouble.  Confidence in the current business performance of many pubs is extremely low with almost half of those surveyed only expecting an average business performance over the next twelve months, if they survive until then at all.”

The decline in trade brought on by the economic recession was singled out as the issue most affecting the industry by 23 per cent of those surveyed.  The below cost sale of alcohol by supermarkets and the subsequent rise in the level of alcohol consumption at home was highlighted as the second biggest factor affecting 22 per cent of pubs.  The impact of current licensing laws over Easter was also cited as a major issue, with 15 per cent losing £4,000 or more per day during the Easter weekend.

In the face of these challenging times for the industry however, there are encouraging signs that the pub trade itself is trying to remain resilient.  Many pubs are diversifying their offering through food, coffee and entertainment as a means of boosting business.  Pubs are also embracing new methods of marketing and promotion with 63 per cent of those surveyed stating that they plan to use Facebook in the coming year as well as 56 per cent who will use website and email to target customers.

Calling for action to help the struggling pub industry Colin Neill concludes:

“Pubs are facing a very difficult future and whilst many are weathering the current situation, the threat of closure is a real possibility facing many publicans.  This decline in business will have a serious impact on the local economy and employment and this cannot be ignored.  It is clear from the findings of our survey that more needs to be done by both the Northern Ireland Assembly and the UK Government on issues such as alcohol duty, the below cost sale of alcohol by supermarkets and Easter opening hours to ensure the long term survival of the industry.”