Scotland's licensed trade has called for the government to help prevent mass pub closures after bar alcohol sales plunged by up to 60 per cent since the introduction of strict new drink-drive limits.

 

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New research has showed that licensed premises suffered an average fall of 30 per cent in such sales since the new laws came into force on December 5. The widely publicised limits, which only apply in Scotland, mean that motorists who consume a single alcoholic drink are at risk of losing their licences.

The analysis is the biggest since the legal alcohol level was reduced from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood.

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, fears mass pub closures on a scale that will surpass the aftermath of the ban on smoking in public places almost a decade ago.

"We have been told anecdotally is that of a dramatic, significant, catastrophic decrease in business," he said. "We have not heard of anyone that has not been affected.

"It is a serious problem and for many people it will mean closure. It will be worse than the smoking ban."

He added: "If we want a pub business in Scotland, the Scottish Government has to take action."

Mr Waterson would like to see 'less draconian' penalties for those caught at the lower end of the limit.

Pub chain Greene King has announced a two per cent rise in sales in pubs in England and Wales during January, but not in Scotland.

The research carried out for purchasing business Beacon, which supplies mostly to the UK licensing trade, examined the experiences of hotels, bars, restaurants and golf clubs and found drops in trade of between 10 and 60 per cent.

They discovered that the new rules have also resulted in new drinking behaviour trends, such as the introduction of smaller glass sizes, earlier lunches and increased interest in mocktails and other non-alcoholic drink alternatives.

The UK's leading brewery and pub chains have already said the new laws north of the Border have been a "game changer."

It is estimated that the smoking ban was one of the main reasons for the closure of 6000 pubs across the UK since 2006. It came in the following year in England and Wales.

The licensed trade association say it equates to the closure of two to three pubs in Britain each week since then.

The SLTA said that while it did not condone drink driving.

However, Mr Waterson suggested a "fairer" sentence of penalty points rather than a driving ban and a 20 year criminal record for those caught between the 50mg and 80mg limits.

It said that ministers should also look at reducing the business rates for licensed premises and re-examine their whether they should continue to be calculated based on turnover. It says rateable values are often nine per cent of their total turnover, while other businesses pay between one and two per cent, which puts "tremendous financial burden" on the trade.

Tesco has reported sales of non-alcoholic and low alcohol beers have risen by up to 80 per cent in Scotland as many motorists decide not to take any risks.

Tennant Hilditch of Beacon, commented: "The first two months of the new drink driving laws being in force have shown a real impact on the hospitality industry in Scotland.

"Some of our hotel, bar and golf club customers are fearing the downturn will be particularly bad for their peak tourist periods of spring and summer holidays and are asking for help to prepare for a new type of guest - one who drinks less, would prefer to check out later and enjoys an early lunch."

"Traditional lunchtime drinkers, or post-golf drinkers in the clubhouse have been particularly affected by the new rules. We are seeing demand for smaller glasses, weaker beers, a trend towards introducing earlier lunch sittings so guests or golfers can stay longer and do not return to the roads as quickly, as well as an increased interest in mocktails."

Nicki Robertson, general manager at the Best Western Woodlands Hotel in Dundee, added: "We've been hit hardest at lunchtimes, with a significant drop in bar sales down throughout December and January.

"Although our evening sales are remaining steady, we just can't charge as much for low alcohol wine or beer, and at lunchtime, we are finding that many of our guests are just enjoying a jug of tap water with their lunch."

Police Scotland has previously said the new limits have been acting as a good deterrent to drink-driving.