A leading guide to British pubs has provoked an unseemly brawl over the fate of the nation’s imperilled drinking establishments after suggesting that struggling pubs deserve to die.
The editors of the new edition of the Good Pub Guide say in its introduction that it “sounds dire” that as many as 4,000 pubs are expected to close in the next year. But they add: “These are the pubs at the bottom of the pecking order, the Bad Pubs. It’s high time they closed their doors.”
The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), publisher of the rival Good Beer Guide, reacted with outrage. Roger Protz, its editor, said it was “bizarre that a book called the Good Pub Guide should welcome the closure of 4,000 pubs”. He added: “Pubs need to be saved, not thrown on the scrapheap. There is a degree of cruelty in the call for pubs to close. People will lose their jobs and, in the case of publicans who live on premises, their home too.”
Camra’s latest figures reveal that 18 pubs closed every week in the first half of the year to last March, rising to 26 a week during the remaining six months. The Government scrapped annual duty rises on beer in its latest budget and cut the price of a pint by a penny, but the Good Pub Guide suggests bad service is a greater threat than economics. Pubs at risk “still behave as if we are stuck in the 1980s, happy with indifferent food, drink, service and surroundings”, it said.
Fiona Stapley, co-editor of the guide, added: “We’re talking here about the pubs where landlords simply don’t care either about the pub or their customers. There are thousands of pubs like that and they do the industry no good whatsoever.”
Camra went further, declaring a class war. “What does Ms Stapley mean when she talks about pubs lower down the pecking order?” Mr Protz asked. “There are people in towns and cities who go to boozers for a decent pint, not a Michelin star chef because they don’t have that kind of income.”
Protz, whose Good Beer Guide has sales comparable to those of its rival, also criticised it for charging pubs for inclusion. He said the fees challenged the guide’s integrity. A spokesman for the publisher, Ebury Press, confirmed that pubs are charged up to £199 for large entries after they are judged good enough “to cover research and production costs”. Landlords rejected the suggestion that only bad pubs suffer. Tess Blunden is co-founder of the Ivy House Community Pub in South-east London, which re-opened last Saturday after locals rejected plans to turn it into flats. “It’s simplistic to say only bad pubs close, particularly in cities were property values make pubs prime targets for developers,” she said.
The Ivy House was a thriving local when the brewery which owned it evicted the landlord and put the building up for sale, Ms Blunden added. Locals stalled a bid from a developer by getting the pub listed under the new Localism Act, giving them six months to raise the funds to buy it.
“We’ve had a huge amount of interest with all kinds of offers from musicians who want to come and perform,” she added. “People have been waiting a long time for this place to open again.”