THE chief executive of Greene King, Rooney Anand, has said the pubs and brewing giant is committed to Scotland whatever the outcome of the referendum on independence in September.
Highlighting Greene King's enthusiasm for Scotland, Mr Anand said the Suffolk-based company will maintain investment while businesses wait for the implications of the vote to become clear.
"Scotland is important to us," said Mr Anand, adding: "We leave it to the people to decide, but whichever way the vote goes we remain very committed to Scotland."
He was speaking after Greene King delivered another year of record results. This provided further evidence that the economic recovery is boosting the leisure sector, although consumers are still showing restraint in some areas.
Noting that the Scottish pubs and beer market looks attractive, as it did when Greene King bought Dunbar-based Belhaven in 2005, Mr Anand said the company plans to continue to invest in growth in Scotland.
Greene King, which has around 250 pubs in Scotland, expects to open new outlets in the country this year. It has been pleased with the response to a range of new beers it has started producing in Dunbar, including Belhaven Black stout.
Asked if Belhaven might put investment on hold until the outcome and implications of the referendum were clear, Mr Anand said: "You can't put a business on hold because it goes backward if you do that. We're opening pubs, we're launching beer brands, we are investing in our infrastructure, we're hiring people."
However, Mr Anand cautioned: "We don't know if independence were to happen what that might mean in terms of doing business." He added: "Assuming no material change in the way in which one would do business, we would be committed to the Scottish market."
The firm, whose brands include Hungry Horse and Loch Fyne among its 1,900 outlets, said underlying pre-tax profits increased 7.4 per cent to £173.1 million in the 53 weeks to May 4, reflecting acquisitions and organic growth. It made £158m in the preceding 52-week period.
Greene King increased total sales in the estate of 1,030 pubs it manages by 4.1 per cent on a like-for like basis, stripping out additions, in the financial year.
The group increased like-for-like sales 1.1 per cent in managed pubs in the first eight weeks of the new financial year. It expects an improvement in sales over the rest of the year.
The World Cup has boosted carry- out sales of its beers, which include Abbot Ale and Belhaven Best.
Mr Anand said: "There are now clear signs that both the UK economic outlook and consumer confidence are improving."
But he noted while consumers are spending confidently in the South East they are being careful in most of the UK.
Greene King said like-for-like sales at its premium London pubs rose 7.4 per cent in the first eight weeks of the current year, but fell an undisclosed percentage in the North.
Mr Anand said sales increased in Scotland in the first eight weeks, without giving details. Like-for-like sales in managed pubs in Scotland increased by 3 per cent in the 53 weeks to May 4.
Greene King is pleased with the performance of the first Farmhouse Inn it opened in Scotland, at Linwood in November, and a new Hungry Horse at Clydebank.
Group full-year food sales increased 5 per cent.
Greene King expects to add around 50 managed outlets this year as it looks to cater for "increasingly dynamic" customer behaviour.
It has sold around 420 tenanted or leased operations in the last 15 months, leaving it with 880.