HAS the local pub had its day as a social hub for the community?
The outlook is not encouraging. Over the last five years, Scotland has been losing three pubs a week. Those categorised as community pubs are particularly vulnerable, with one-fifth closing since 2007.
The loss of 42 locals in Argyll and Bute alone confirms that rural areas are particularly badly affected. The factors contributing to the demise of pubs throughout the country are well established. The most obvious is price. The higher cost of buying a drink in a pub, especially compared with cut-price promotions in supermarkets, is the main reason why most alcohol is now bought from off-sales and consumed at home. Once the minimum price legislation comes into effect, it should begin to even out the differential. To be fully effective, however, the policy will have to encourage a more responsible attitude to alcohol. Local pubs offering sociable, supervised drinking have a vital role to play in changing behaviour. Some landlords also attribute the drop in customers to the smoking ban, although the growing number of non-smokers regard the change as an advantage.
It is inevitable that visits to the pub will be one of the first items to be cut when budgets are tight and a majority of licensees report they made less money in 2011 than the previous year. A survey by a major brewing company found three-quarters of Scottish drinkers thought the number of community pubs would continue to decline over the next decade. Despite this bleak outlook, local pubs are the most frequently-visited neighbourhood amenity after the corner shop. Yet the Scottish Licensed Trade Association warns many more bars are on the brink of closure after being forced to open only at weekends. So should they be given a helping hand to survive or should their future be left to market forces?
Molson Coors Scotland, the brewer behind Carling, wants an end to the duty escalator and is calling for simplified and more transparent business rates and a simpler licensing system. Their strongest case is for a reduction in business rates and a more transparent system. Everyone loses if high rates result in business closures and empty properties. But it would be illogical for a Scottish Government that is implementing a minimum price for alcohol to lobby Westminster for a reduction in duty. There must be safeguards in granting licences.
Pubs whose landlords have recognised the need to diversify, whether by serving meals or providing premises for the post office, hosting quizzes, offering live music and even knitting nights are not only surviving but thriving. They identify top quality drinks and food matched by good service as the key. Other struggling retail businesses should take note.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.