SCOTLAND’S stricter drink-driving regulations are continuing to have a drastic effect on the licensed trade, as figures have revealed that more than half of the country’s 6,000 pubs saw a fall in sales over the summer.
And pubs in rural and tourist areas continue to be the most badly affected by the reduction in the legal drink-drive limit, with more than one-third seeing sales plummet by more than 10 per cent compared with the summer of 2014.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), which commissioned the report, is now calling for government support to back the ailing pub industry, citing the threat posed by plans to bring in a statutory living wage as a further major concern on the horizon.
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The figures, published today, cast fresh doubt on Scottish pub trade’s ability to adapt to tougher drink-driving legislation.
The SLTA warned that the pub closure rate, calculated at between six and seven per week before the legal limit changed in December, is likely to rise this year, putting thousands of jobs in the hospitality sector at risk.
It is calling on Westminster and Holyrood to support the trade and flagged reductions in National Insurance contributions and/or Valued Added Tax (VAT) as potential mechanisms to support the sector.
And it reiterated its call for a points-based systems of penalties to be introduced for motorists caught with alcohol levels between the new legal limit – 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood – and the former 80mg per 100ml limit.
SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson said: “Our industry is totally committed to the responsible retailing of alcohol and the creation of a vibrant economy in Scotland, but we do not believe that the Draconian penalties linked to new drink-driving regulations are effective and proportionate. We also believe that, although our workers deserve wage increases, unless the Government makes concessions on our cost base, new living wage legislation means jobs will be lost, service levels will suffer and the number of closures will accelerate.”
The SLTA survey was based on the views of 600 business owners, or 10 per cent of the Scottish pub estate.
It found that 55 per cent of outlets have seen sales fall in August and September compared with last year. And it signalled that it is not only alcohol sales which have been affected by the change in the limit.
The report found that 38 per cent of outlets reported a decline in food sales, which according to the SLTA suggests that people are simply avoiding licensed premises.
The trade body declared that confidence among small and large business owners is low, with 18 per cent stating that they expect to see any growth over the rest of the year.
Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) cited Scottish Government legislation as the single biggest threat to their business.
Mr Waterson said that without government support such as a VAT cut, operators could be forced to adopt employ only staff under 25 or use zero hours contracts "which I loathe" as they deal with the impact of the living wage.
The SLTA warned the decline in visits to on-trade visits also posed a threat to Scotland’s burgeoning craft brewing and spirits sector, claiming its prospects will be limited if there are fewer outlets in which to purchase their products.
The SLTA previously found that the majority of pubs saw alcohol sales fall by at least 10 per cent between December and March.
Asked whether pub sales this summer were bound to have struggled compared with last year, when Scotland staged the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup, Mr Waterson said: "If you look at some other business surveys, for instance in hotels, they were well up on last year. This is such a marked decrease that I think it would be wrong to look too much into that. There is a real effect.
"The figures are bad enough, but it has changed drinking habits. It has changed the whole essence of what the pub is about."
While powers for setting the drink-drive penalties are reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government signalled there were no plans to lobby UK ministers to change them.
A spokeswoman said reducing penalties for drivers caught with less than 80mg of alcohol per 100ml "risks undermining the message that if you are driving, the best approach is not to consume any alcohol."