SCOTLAND'S convenience stores are each down an average of £4000 because of liquor licensing red tape introduced two years ago, with new research fuelling allegations local authorities are "profiteering" at the expense of retailers.

According to figures secured through Freedom of Information legislation, 11 out of 27 Scottish councils have made money running into hundreds of thousands of pounds from the new licensing regime since 2009, despite the statutory requirement for it to be cost-neutral.

The same number again could not, or struggled to, account for how they spent money brought in from businesses selling alcohol.

One major trade lobbying group claims the combined cost to store owners dealing with bureaucracy since the introduction of the Licensing (Scotland) 2005 Act in 2009 now stands at £22.4 million, with the knock-on impacting on staff and customers.

The Scottish Grocers' Federation (SGF), whose membership of nearly 2000 stores including Spar, Nisa, Costcutter and Scotmid employs more than 32,000 people, said the figures showed retailers paid "hand over fist for a system so lacking in transparency, accountability, consistency and proportionality".

SGF chief executive John Drummond said: "The 2005 Act has cost our members approximately £4000 per store and the convenience sector around £22.4m over the last three years.

"These figures show licence holders are paying over the odds for a system which is cumbersome and which is lining the pockets of some local authorities.

"Retailers continue to struggle with a particularly tough trading environment and every additional pound given to local authorities, or spent untangling the bureaucracy of licensing, is a pound less that retailers can invest making their businesses more viable through lower grocery prices and employing staff.

"To paraphrase the Scottish Government – it is not the price of alcohol which makes our bananas more expensive, it is the cost of disproportionate bureaucratic burdens like these."

Scotland's licensing system changed in September 2009 with the aim of streamlining it for the trade and those administering it. However, as well as a fee for entering the new system and the costs of annual licences, shop owners now have to submit floor plans if they want to change alcohol display areas, with architects often needing to be drafted in.

A Scottish Government review by independent experts in 2010 found a long list of problems with the Licensing (Scotland) 2005 Act, including councils making money from the new system and the escalation of the cost of selling alcohol for the small to medium-sized retailer.

The SGF's findings show in some cases councils made signifi- cant amounts of money from the new fees, with Stirling profiting by £278,943, Highland by £451,176, Glasgow by £746,697, and Dundee making 20% on income since 2009.

The figures also show several councils struggling to adequately account for income from licences and fees and explain what they spend it on.

According to the SGF, 12 out of 32 local authorities fell into this bracket.

Two local authorities, Aberdeen City and Inverclyde, were unable to provide any financial details on licensing, while the cost of administering alcohol licences ranges from £354 per premise in Highland to £2502 in South Lanarkshire.

Licensing solicitor Stephen McGowan, from law firm Lindsays, said that since the new licensing system came into place, "a number of operators have gone bust and they will be shocked at some of these figures".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "While we believe the 2005 Act is working effectively, we continue to monitor the situation."