THE number of people approved to sell alcohol in Scotland has soared by around 12,000 in the past two years.

New Government statistics shows that by 2012/2013 52,800 people had personal licences. It means they have been vetted by the authorities and permitted to take charge of everything from a supermarket to a country pub selling liquor.

That had risen from 47,700 the previous year and from just over 40,000 in March 2011.

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Industry sources say the figures are indicative of improving standards within the licensed trade, with the likely explanation being bigger operators putting more staff through the system.

But the huge growth on the number of approved individuals is not mirrored in a rise in premises selling liquor, with the number actually dropping slightly in the last year.

The overall number of premises licences in force on 31 March 2013 stood at just over 16,200, down about 150 on the previous year.

The vast majority of the drop in premises licences were in the capital.

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 came fully into force in September 2009 and this release reflects the third full year of operation under the new licensing arrangements.

For the first time since the statistics changed with the new Act, Glasgow has overtaken Edinburgh as the city with the most licences, with 1745 compared to 1725 in the capital.

Edinburgh has dropped by 126 licences, while Glasgow has dropped by just three.

One prominent trade source said: "The fact that the number of licences are remaining steady reflects newer, better operators coming in to the market.

"It may be symptomatic of a move away from just pure sales of alcohol towards food and accommodation."