The fall in the number of UK pubs and bars over the last decade could be taking a U-turn.

In March 2019 there were 320 more pubs and bars than the year before, bringing the UK total to 39,145. The data, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in Economies of Ale shows the first net increase since 2009.

This Insight looks at the data and breaks the findings down by pub and bar size and areas across the UK.

Can we rely on the new data?

This Insight includes data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The data is based on VAT and PAYE returns from businesses and can be found in the ONS UK Business Counts, via the NOMIS database, using the Beverage Serving Activities in public houses and bars. The latest data is for 2019.

The industry trade body, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), however, has warned people to be cautious of the statistics. BBPA data, which differs from the ONS data, is collected via a census of its members, and suggests that the number of pubs is still falling, although more gradually. The latest BBPA data is for 2018.

BBPA told the BBC that the March Budget provided a ‘great opportunity’ for policy makers to help pub owners. It suggested this could be achieved by easing beer duty taxes and business rates.

A graph showing the number of pubs and bars in the UK fell at an increased rate from 2008 onwards. But between 2018 and 2019 there was a rise from 38,650 to 39,145.
Source: ONS via NOMIS, UK Business Counts SIC Code 56.30.2

Why did the number of pubs increase in 2019?

There have been numerous attempts by the Government to help revive pubs from the decline. For example, then Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, introduced business rate relief for pubs and small business in the 2017 and 2018 Budgets.

However, the ONS has suggested that the recent slight rise in pub and bar numbers has been mostly driven by ‘changing consumer habits,’ such as increased food sales.

Since 2014, the number of people serving food has outnumbered those working behind the bar. According to the ONS, 44% of pub and bar employees were involved in serving food, compared to 29% being bar staff in 2019.

A graph showing there are now more employees in pubs and bars working in food service than behind the bar.
Source: ONS, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings via Economies of Ale.

All sizes of pubs and bars increased

The number of small pubs and bars (employing fewer than 10 people) has been falling for even longer than overall number. However, in 2019 numbers increased for the first time in more than 15 years, by 85 (0.4%).

The number of medium sized pubs and bars (employing 10 to 24 people), also increased by 0.4% between March 2018 and March 2019.

Large pubs and bars (25 and over employees), increased the most, by 4.1%.

A bar chart showing the number of pubs in the UK by employment size band. The majority has fewer than 10.
Source: ONS Inter-Departmental Business Register via Economies of Ale.
All data refers to the number of public houses and bars.

Where were the biggest falls and increases in pub and bar numbers?

A map showing the change in pub numbers across the UK from 2018 to 2019.
Source: ONS, UK Business Counts, local units by industry and employment size band, via NOMIS [SIC code 56.30.2: Public houses and bars.

Constituencies across the UK saw varying levels of change in the number of pubs. The largest increase was seen in Luton North, where the number of pubs increased by 100% from five pubs in 2018 to 10 pubs in 2019.

Both Birmingham Northfield, and Tottenham had the second largest percentage increase. Numbers here rose by 50% from 2018 to 2019. Birmingham Northfield increased from 10 to 15 pubs, whilst Tottenham increased from 20 to 30 pubs.

It was not all good news, as some constituencies saw the number of pubs and bars fall. Lewisham West and Penge constituency had the largest fall; pub numbers decreased by 29% (10). Clwyd South had 27% (15) fewer pubs. There are also a number of constituencies that had no change in pub numbers.

In the countries of the UK from 2018 to 2019, both England and Northern Ireland had increases of 1% (345, and five, respectively). Wales had a net fall of 25 pubs (1%), while Scotland had a modest fall of five pubs (less than 1%).

This data is rounded to the nearest five.

Where are most of the pubs and bars?

There was a large disparity in the total number of pubs and bars in each constituency. The constituency with the highest number is the Cities of London and Westminster, which has 555. In comparison, Belfast East has five pubs.

594 out of the 650 parliamentary constituencies have fewer than 100 pubs. Only five constituencies have 200 or more (all of which are in the centres of major cities). These are:

  • Cities of London and Westminster (555)
  • Glasgow Central (225)
  • Manchester Central (220)
  • Liverpool, Riverside (210)
  • Holborn and St Pancras (200)

The map below shows the number of pubs per 100,000 people in each constituency.

A map showing the constituencies in the UK with the most and fewest pubs per 100,000 people.
Source: ONS, UK Business Counts, local units by industry and employment size band, via NOMIS [SIC code 56.30.2: Public houses and bars.

In Greater London, most of the constituencies with high numbers of pubs per head of the population are those along the Thames. These include the cities of London and Westminster (427 pubs per 100,000 people) and Chelsea and Fulham (82 pubs per 100,000 people).

Pubs and bars in other constituencies are more concentrated in the urban areas, such as in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and in the Merseyside area.

Maps showing the number of pubs per 100,000 people by parliamentary constituecies in Merseyside and Greater London.
Source: ONS, UK Business Counts, local units by industry and employment size band, via NOMIS [SIC code 56.30.2: Public houses and bars.
A map showing the number of pubs in parliamentary constituencies in 2019, focusing on Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Source: ONS, UK Business Counts, local units by industry and employment size band, via NOMIS [SIC code 56.30.2: Public houses and bars.

Further reading:

About the author: Niamh Foley is a researcher specialising in economic policy and statistics at the House of Commons Library.