IT is said that New Year’s resolutions just make you more miserable – especially if you’re a publican, confectioner or tobacconist.

And the start of this year looks particularly grim for many in hospitality, retail or any other sector that relies on the public being able to enjoy themselves a bit.

No help with your energy bills – or even certainty about how much you’ll be paying – after March. Cautious consumers, worried sick about what they’ll be paying when their fixed-rate mortgage deals come to an end, understandably watching every penny. Changes to business rates reliefs and no specific support for the hardest-pressed sectors. Not to mention staffing issues and other cost hikes.

And now, if you sell alcohol in your business, there are moves afoot that could make Dry January look like an all-inclusive Club 18-30 beach party.

Because, as you’ll doubtless be aware, the Scottish Government is consulting on a range of severe restrictions on how alcohol can be promoted and sold. Measures being floated include banning displays at the end of aisles and “mixed” aisles that sell alcoholic drinks and other products. Any alcohol behind the till might need hidden in a cabinet, like tobacco. They could even dictate what you can and can’t display in your own shop window.

Of course, under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, alcohol can already only be displayed in a specific area, as agreed with the Licensing Board as part of your premises licence.

However, those of us who remember the expense and chaos implementing these changes recall that, for some, it meant buying new fridges to keep alcohol and other products separate. Others had to refit at least part of the shop. So, if it’s the same again, all this will need re-done, but at a time when businesses have little or non-existent margins, are saddled with Covid debt and have long since bade farewell to any cash reserves.

Indeed, the document itself acknowledges “this could significantly limit how alcohol could be sold” in some small shops, conceding that the impact on small retailers will need examined.

It’s not just last orders for alcohol retailers, though. If you have a pub or restaurant, these moves could even outlaw branded glasses. I’m not a behavioural psychologist, but if you’ve gone into a pub and ordered a pint, you’re going to drink that pint regardless of whether or not it’s served in the correct glass. So, other than forcing the publican to find more money to replace all their glasses, what practical effect will this have?

Colin Borland: Stabilising finances must not be at expense of recovery

Indeed, beermats, drip-trays and anything else bearing a drink’s logo could be axed. Not great news for all the small businesses who produce this promotional material.

Also spare a thought for the small drinks producers trying to get their products out there in a competitive market. As Scott Wright highlighted in this paper last week when he reported the concerns of Andy Samuel, founder of Gourock-based Shipyard Gin, emerging businesses need a full marketing mix to showcase their products to potential customers – especially smaller producers going up against the massive multinationals.

That, for the avoidance of doubt, is a good thing. It’s how a free market economy works; how we encourage entrepreneurialism and growth. Restricting that freedom is not something to be done lightly.

If every cloud has a silver lining, though, maybe it’s that this episode neatly demonstrates what’s wrong with how business regulation is developed and how it can be improved.

As we’ve long argued, many difficulties with regulation come from ideas conceived very far from the business and economy departments. They are then released on an unsuspecting business community who, understandably, throw up their hands in despair at yet more cost and impractical red tape.

Ministers need to ask their officials hard questions about whether any particular proposal is essential and proportionate – and if it’s really needed right now. If anything can be delayed, it must – at least until the economy is back on its feet.

Some will counter that this is only a consultation and it’s supposed to raise tough questions. And we will of course make the case robustly when we respond. But, in the current perilous climate, should we really be diverting businesses’ efforts away from fighting for their future so they can deal with issues like this?

Colin Borland is director of devolved nations for the Federation of Small Businesses