PUB landlords are fighting to save their livelihoods after the biggest survey of the industry since Scotland's tough new drink-drive limits were imposed revealed another slump in alcohol sales.

 

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Most bars and other licensed premises are reporting booze sales have fallen by at least 10 per cent since December 5 last year, when new legislation meant that anyone who got behind the wheel after just a single alcoholic drink risked losing their licences.

The poll of more than 400 outlets carried out by the industry suggests the new drink-drive limits are having a devastating impact, with millions of pounds lost in over-the-counter alcohol sales as people stay at home or consume soft drinks.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA)'s survey has reignited fears that thousands of jobs could be lost in the industry.

Chief executive Paul Waterson predicted that pubs would close at a faster rate in Scotland this year than in 2014, when six to seven closed a week on average, leading to thousands of job losses across the hospitality industry.

He said: "When the smoking ban came in and we started to ask people how it went, they were hesitant and said they could mitigate it. People wanted time to see how it was going to pan out before they made any comment.

"But almost immediately people were saying it was having a significant effect on their business. I think that amount of downturn - 10 per cent with some saying up to 30 per cent - is really very, very serious indeed."

There is also fresh concern the law change will lead to more pub closures than the smoking ban, introduced nine years ago this month.

A total of 72 per cent of outlets questioned said alcohol sales were down by at least 10 per cent or between December and February. It came despite the quarter covering the festive period - traditionally the busiest time of year.

The poll found nearly two-thirds of pubs (64 per cent) revenue fell by up to 10 per cent across the board.

Of that figure, nearly one in three (29 per cent) saw an even steeper fall in sales, with some reporting midweek downturns of at least 30 per cent.

Food sales were affected as well as alcohol, the survey signalled, with some outlets reporting that revenues from meals were down by more than a third.

The survey provides further evidence of the effect on pubs from the lowering of the drink drive limit, which reduced the safe legal alcohol limit to 50mg per 100ml of blood on December 5.

The legal limit had previously been 80mg per 100ml of blood, which remains the law in England.

A snap poll by industry body the BII found the revised limit had affected 75 per cent of its members in Scotland.

In February a survey of 50 outlets by trade buying group Beacon found sales had fallen in some cases by up to 60 per cent in the first two months after the new limit came into force.

That came after brewer and pub group Greene King said in January that the new limit had led to slower trading across its 200 Belhaven pubs in Scotland over the festive season.

Rural pubs and golf clubs are believed to have been hit the hardest by the change, though outlets which enjoy custom at lunchtime and after office hours are also believed to have been affected.

The SLTA suggested that few operators expect trading to pick up in the months ahead.

More than half of outlets (52 per cent) said they expected to see the decline to continue throughout 2015, compared with 13 per cent expecting sales will grow.

Mr Waterson added: "It is very concerning for rural areas and tourist traps. Of course there will be exceptions to that, but on the whole a downturn like that is significant by anybody's standards."

The Scottish Government said that while the power to set the drink drive limit had been devolved to the Holyrood with the Scotland Act 2012, the power to legislate on other aspects of drink driving, including the penalties, is reserved to Westminster.

A spokeswoman said: "Scotland is leading the way across the UK with the introduction of a lower drink drive limit, and the decrease in the number of drink drive detections during the festive Drive Drive campaign is testament to the immediate effect of the new limit.

"We know that licensees do not wish to place their customers or other road users at risk, and if people act responsibly, for example by nominating a designated driver this will help mitigate any impact on trade.

"We are determined to end the tragedy of deaths caused by drink driving, and if this new law saves one life, then it will be a success."

The SLTA is calling on the UK Government to support the trade by introducing flexibility to the penalties for those found to have broken the law, and proposed a sliding scale of charges for those caught driving with an alcohol level of between 50mg and 80mg per 100ml of blood.

It also wants a change in the way business rates are calculated for pubs from the current turnover-based model, and for the number of pubs qualifying for full rates relief to be doubled.