Small steps in the right direction

THIS time last year, I wrote in this column that 2016 was right up there with the most challenging for the trade.

Twelve months on and I think it’s fair to say that 2017 hasn’t been any less tough.

From the ridiculous rises in rateable values that emerged at the turn of the year, which saw some operators faced with crippling increases of hundreds of per cent, to ongoing issues like the impact of the lower drink drive limit, spiralling costs, Brexit uncertainty and cheap supermarket alcohol prices, the trade did not have its troubles to seek as 2017 got underway.

As the year went on, however, faint glimmers of hope began to emerge.

Following a concerted lobbying effort by trade groups, the finance minister brought in a 12-month 14.75% cap on rates rises for hospitality businesses, which he subsequently pledged to extend for a further year to 2018/2019 and to explore alternative methods of valuation for licensed trade businesses.

And, of course, the year is ending with the Supreme Court ruling that minimum unit pricing (MUP) is legal, and the Scottish Government confirming it will come in to force on May 1, 2018.

It goes without saying that neither MUP nor a temporary rates reprieve is a silver bullet for the on-trade. But they do seem to be small steps in the right direction and will go some way to redressing long-standing imbalances.

Let’s hope the Scottish Government is realising the importance of hospitality businesses – and that there are plenty more steps in the right direction to come.