SCOTTISH pub campaigners have warned of the “domino impact” of acute staff shortages, as a survey revealed a “worrying” 9% of outlets are “either planning to close or considering options”.

More than 72% of respondents to a major survey commissioned by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said they were struggling to fill vacancies, with 68% of outlets declaring they were under-staffed.

The SLTA, which represents independent pubs, hotels, and restaurants, said that the continuing staff shortages are having a “domino impact on opening hours, the economic viability of our businesses, and our role as a key part of Scotland’s tourism industry”.

It comes as the industry continues to be hampered by rising costs, with 77% of respondents to the survey reporting continued increases in utility charges and 95% seeing supplier costs rising.

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And with the UK still mired in a cost of living crisis, 58% of outlets said they are still trading below pre-Covid levels; 67% expect further economic decline and 9% are either planning to close their doors for the final time or mulling their options.

The findings are based on the views of 325 business owners.

Speaking to The Herald today, SLTA spokesman and hotelier Paul Waterson said the extent of staff shortages illustrated by the survey are “dynamite” for the industry.

Mr Waterson said: “That impacts on opening times, it impacts on everything. And the people who are working, it impacts on them too because in some cases they have got to do extra hours.”

Referring to high streets in Scotland which are blighted by empty units, he added: “The saviour of the high street is going to be hospitality, but where are the incentives coming [from]?”

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“All those shops along Princes Street, and in towns like Stirling, Dundee and Paisley, the only thing that is going to save them is hospitality. [But] where is the incentive for us to do it?

Mr Waterson said the lack of staff highlighted by the survey will deter entrepreneurs from investing in the industry. “That is what worries me,” he said. “We are not going to be attractive to the young entrepreneurial guys who are going to take us forward.

“The businesses that have got a solid base and have been in the industry for years can ride these things out. The younger guys can’t ride it out.

“If you ally that to all the other problems that we have illustrated in the survey… 67% expect further economic decline, how low can it go? You don’t have to be Einstein: your costs are going through the roof, but your turnover is declining.”

Asked about the 9% of pubs which are planning to close or considering their options, Mr Waterson said every closure marks the end of “hopes and dreams” for people trying to build a business.

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He said: “What makes it even worse is when you see someone like Brian Maule (chef and restaurateur) closing; that is very worrying. They have got quite a strong base to their business, you would imagine, and they have had enough.”

Mr Waterson said the survey underlined the need for government support for the industry. The SLTA is calling for the UK Government to cut the rate of value-added tax applied to the sector and for the Scottish Government to reduce the burden of business rates. Along with the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, which represents large pub companies and brewers, it is asking Scottish ministers to cut the poundage rate that is used by assessors to calculate rates.

The basic property rate or poundage in Scotland is 49.8p for properties with rateable values of up to £51,000; rates bills are calculated by multiplying the poundage by the rateable value of the property in question.

In England, industry campaigners have in recent weeks been calling for the 75% relief from business rates currently provided to the retail, leisure, and hospitality sectors, up to a maximum of £110,000 per business, to be extended beyond the current financial year.

Mr Waterson said: “It [the industry] has never recovered from Covid. We need a real change in emphasis through rates, or through VAT. Just an understanding [of the issues].”