Drink drive limit hammers trade

Government must act or risk further job losses, says SLTA

By Gillian McKenzie

ALMOST two thirds of licensed premises have seen sales slump by up to 10% in the wake of the lower drink drive limit, according to a new survey by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA).
The poll revealed that 64% of outlets showed a decline in like-for-like sales of up to 10% in the first quarter of 2015, versus the same period last year. Of those, 29% said sales were down by more than 10%, with some reporting a drop of more than 30% in midweek trade.
Alcohol sales have been hardest hit, with 72% reporting a downturn of 10% or more; some outlets reported food revenues were down by more than a third.
Confidence amongst operators is at an all-time low, according to the study, with 52% saying they expect the decline to continue throughout this year, and just 13% saying they expect to see growth. More than half (56%) of those surveyed said the single biggest threat to their business is Scottish Government legislation – a figure the SLTA said was nearly four times higher than any other threat, such as off-trade pricing or local competition.
The SLTA survey was published as it emerged that the change to the drink drive limit, which took effect on December 5, could be considered a “material change in circumstances” and grounds for a business rates appeal. Appeals made by March 31 (via the Scottish Assessors Association – saa.gov.uk) could, if successful, be back-dated to December 5.
SLTA chief executive Paul Waterson said the findings of the survey, which polled more than 400 outlets across Scotland, are “very worrying”.
“The fight is on to save our trade,” he said.
“Our pubs and bars are the heart and soul of the communities they serve. If a town or village pub closes, it loses its focal point, local activities suffer, people lose contact and the sociability of an area is lost.
“Some respondents talked about part-time opening; that’s not what this business is about.
“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.”
The SLTA survey came after a BII Scotland study claimed 75% of pubs had seen a downturn in trade since the lower limit came into force. Chairman Stephen McGowan said pubs are an “intrinsic” part of communities across Scotland and a “major employer”.
“In the Year of Food & Drink, we call upon the Scottish Government to strive to assist these important social and cultural assets,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “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.”