Licensed trade hits out at government

‘Draconian’ drink-drive law and living wage is threat to pubs

Derelict pubScotland’s hospitality industry today called on the Holyrood government to help avert more pub closures and job losses resulting from the tough new drink-driving law and demand for a living wage.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association said the drinking and driving legislation was heavy-handed and pubs are under threat as people are staying away in fear of being punished for drinking even small amounts of alcohol.

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the SLTA, the drink-drive legislation and proposed minimum wage legislation is having a serious effect on retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers.

He said: “Our industry is totally committed to the responsible retailing of alcohol and the creation of a vibrant economy in Scotland, but we do not believe that the draconian penalties linked to new drink driving legislation are effective and proportionate.

“We also believe, that although our workers deserve wage increases, unless the Government makes concessions on our cost base, jobs will be lost, service levels will suffer and the number of closures will accelerate.”

Its State of the Nation survey of 600 outlets, representing 10% of on-trade businesses, is published today and found that 55% suffered a decline in like-for-like sales compared to last year.

This is also hitting the food sector, with 38% of outlets reporting a decline sales as people stopped visiting their local pubs.  The biggest impact was in countryside and tourist locations, where 39% of retailers reported a decline of more than 10%.

Two-thirds, or 66%, of outlets said the biggest single threat to their business was Scottish Government Legislation. This figure was more than four times higher than any other named threats, such as competition or supermarket pricing.

On this matter, Waterson said: If anyone thought the threat would dissipate over time, they are wrong, which is why we need support.”

“The fight is on for the entrepreneurs and business owners who employ over 60,000 people in Scotland.

“More retailers are joining our organisation, as their customers are now afraid to stop and have one drink at their local on the way home from work, and many who take the family out for a mid-week bite or Sunday lunch, aren’t coming in at all.

“People worried about driving with small residual amounts of alcohol in their bloodstream after a night out is having the most significant effect on stopping people coming into our premises of an evening.”

Regarding the demand for businesses to pay the Living Wage, he said: “If the government is looking to increase minimum wages, they need to recognise the economics of our industry.

“Wages are typically 30%-plus of our cost base and our businesses cannot cope with increased costs unless they are offset by other tax savings. For a small business making 8 or 9% profit, an increased wage bill will reduce profits to 2 or 3%. If interest rates go up without a concession elsewhere, the business simply cannot survive.

He added: “Our pubs and bars are at the centre of many economies and communities across Scotland. If more businesses close, we will see fewer facilities for tourists, higher prices in hotels and increased unemployment.

“People can be very dismissive of the impact of individual pub closures, but this isn’t about one or two outlets employing five or six people. Last year, before the change to the drink driving regulations, we had six or seven closures every week, with 30 or 40 job losses, over a year this runs into thousands. That closure rate looks like it will rise this year.

“We are now asking Government officials in Holyrood and Westminster to meet with us, and come up with practical solutions to alleviate the impact on our sector and the high number of potential job losses.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The independent North Review Committee on drink driving law, which reported in 2010, found that you are six times more likely to die in a road accident with a blood alcohol concentration between 50 and 80 mg/100ml than with zero blood alcohol.

“Reducing the penalties for drink drivers with a blood/alcohol level below 80mg/100ml ignores the fact that such drivers have a significantly increased risk of being involved in an accident and risks undermining the message that if you are driving, the best approach is not to consume any alcohol. That is why the Scottish Government considers that the automatic 12-month driving ban remains appropriate at the lower 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 designed 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.”

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