Pub landlords on the edge - 'It's going from bad to worse'

Landlords and punters are desperately pulling together to rally support for pubs across Yorkshire as the rising cost of fuel has led to fears thousands of boozers will shut down.

Like most of the hospitality industry, pubs are still finding their feet following a challenging pandemic which saw them close for months, before reopening with strict rules placing limits on how they could operate.

One landlord said the rising costs will “strike a huge blow” as people will also reconsider their living expenses, and whether they can afford to go to the pub.

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Ben Warren, who runs 11 pubs across West Yorkshire through Concept Taverns, said: “Currently things look like they will simply go from bad to worse. I fear for all the businesses around us and hospitality as a whole.

The Great NorthernThe Great Northern
The Great Northern

His venues - including Parkside Tavern and The Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds - recently saw their utility costs almost triple.

“From 15.2p a unit to 43p a unit – rising the annual cost from £33k to £102k. Where do we find £60,000 for this?” he said.

And it’s even worse for pubs which have opened more recently, such as his Huddersfield venue which opened in 2021.

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Mr Warren said: “The cost of utilities for new businesses is so high we have never been able to get a fixed contract in place and are currently paying 58p per unit, which is unsustainable long term.”

Northern Snooker Centre in LeedsNorthern Snooker Centre in Leeds
Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds

While Concept Taverns are going to attempt to “weather the storm,” the future is uncertain for them and many other businesses.

Mr Warren added: “The idea of fewer local pubs and restaurants is very upsetting. We see so many people day to day who rely on the social network a community pub brings. Hospitality is a huge part of our culture and should be supported to ensure its survival.”

Like many others, Mr Warren wants the government to step in and price caps to be put in place.

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Owner of the Black Rock, 55-year-old Shaun Slater, who has run the pub for 24 years, agreed.

“We’re the only form of social care some of our elderly customers have,” he said. “Many people struggled after the pandemic and so did trade but everything had been starting to pick up again.”

He said he is fortunate that they’re just a small pub which doesn’t serve food, but with people also struggling financially, these latest energy price caps will have a devastating impact on the whole community.

Raymond Lowe, who is 75 and from Wakefield, has been supping pints of Fosters at Rubylou’s inside The Ridings Shopping Centre for the past nine years and said he couldn’t imagine life without his local pub.

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He said; “It’s the only pub I go to. I’d be lost without it. I would be stuck indoors drinking on my own without here. I wouldn’t leave the house.”

Family-run Rubylou’s proprietor Katie Lockwood said the future is uncertain with nobody quite knowing what’s going to happen this winter.

“We serve food so we’ve already had to restrict the hours we’re in the kitchen to save on energy and to make everything fresh and in small portions,” she said. “We had to increase our prices earlier this year but that costs us too to re-do all the menus. We can’t afford to keep raising prices and changing the menus and nor can our customers.”

Sheffield’s Kelham Island is a formerly run down industrial quarter of the city, which has had a huge regeneration in recent times and transformed itself into a trendy food and drink hot spot.

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But Kelham Island Brewery, one of Sheffield’s oldest breweries, announced it was closing after 32 years of trading back in May. And sadly the future looks “quite bleak” for many others in the area too.

Landlord Liz Aspden, 47, who runs a quiet backstreet pub, The Harlequin, off the beaten track near to Kelham Island, worries whether they’ll be able to stay afloat with the rising costs.

“As pubs are at the end of a supply chain for drinks and food, all cost increases are passed on to us,” she said. “Under normal circumstances we'd increase the price of items sold to cushion that increase, however, with the steep rise in energy costs, this complicates matters.

“Our energy has already more than doubled in cost, and there are further price rises predicted over the coming months - by which time I'll need to be factoring in the cost of heating - the extra amount of cash that I need to generate to stay afloat isn't possible through price rises.”

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With everyone's energy costs going up, many people will also be thinking more carefully about what they can afford, and for some of them a visit to a pub will become an unaffordable luxury, added Ms Aspden.

She said: “I've already had some customers tell me that they're cutting their trips to pubs at the moment in anticipation, and that they probably won't be able to come out at all in winter.”

The Harlequin has already endured the brunt of post-pandemic life with many regulars now working from home, killing off trading periods. But Ms Aspden accepts that traditional pubs like hers open at times when occupancy will be low - for the social respite they offer regulars.

She added: “That's just part and parcel of the type of establishment we are. Like many publicans though, I'm going to have to think very carefully about opening hours, and what sort of occupancy rates I need to justify heating a large building.”