By all accounts, the good people of the United Kingdom may be in for a rough winter. It will be even worse if the economic conditions cause some of the country’s excellent pubs to close–including a pub that is reputed to be the oldest continuously operating pub in the U.K.
The pub is Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St. Albans, and its problem is the cost of energy. The pub says it has been serving thirsty customers their pints and pies for 1,200 years, but now its energy costs have doubled. And, being a public place, a pub can’t conserve energy by turning off the lights in certain areas during business hours, as a British home could. The cost increases, and the fact that winter tends to be the slow season for pubs, raises the possibility that some pubs will close–which would make the bleak mid-winter even bleaker.
The pub businesses in the U.K. have warned that the crushing costs for electricity, heating, and other pub supplies might cause widespread closures, and resulting job losses. They say that pubs have faced an average 150% increase in energy costs, and the impact of the costs is causing “irreversible damage.” Some pubs say they are dealing with a 400 percent increase in the cost of a one-year gas supply contract, and some say they can’t get a contract at all. (Pubs are not alone in suffering, incidentally, the average household faces an 80 percent increase in energy costs.) The costs increases are attributed to the Russians exercising periodic shutdown control over natural gas supplies, which has caused fears that supplies might be cut off entirely in the winter to increase Russia’s political leverage in its war against Ukraine. The fact that the U.K. doesn’t have extensive gas storage facilities doesn’t help the price volatility, either.
Times have been tough for the pubs over the last few years; they were forced to close during the COVID pandemic, and they are dealing with changing drinking habits in their communities. But it’s impossible to absorb increased costs of the kind pubs are facing without also dramatically increasing prices to customers- which would cause further deterioration in pub business.
I’m hoping that the pubs somehow make it through, and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks gets a chance to give visitors a warm, friendly place to quaff a pint or two for another 1,200 years. I can’t imagine a trip to England without spending at least time in its iconic pubs. Pubs are one of the things that make England England.