BELHAVEN Group, Scotland's leading regional brewer, boosted its annual dividend by 10 per cent on the back of strong profits growth yesterday - and played down previous vocal opposition to the introduction next spring of a blanket smoking ban in Scotland's pubs.
Unveiling a 22.5 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to 17.43 million (14.23m) and a total divi of 12.35p (11.20p), Belhaven chief executive Stuart Ross said although the smoking ban would create uncertainty "there will be a level playing field".
The Scottish ban is being introduced earlier than the one in England and Wales and will apply to all pubs rather than just ones with food offerings.
Ross said judging the effect of the ban on the Scottish pub trade was "a crystal-ball job".
But he said Belhaven had sent eight managers over to Ireland to study that country's pub smoking ban last December, when they looked at 200 pubs in cities, towns and rural areas.
Ross said: "The most telling comment was that, to almost a man, the pubs [managers] said if they got the chance to reverse the ban they would not want to take it."
Ross said he believed that some older people "might not want to be dictated to" and trade might drift away to take-home consumption, which would be a worry for the pubs industry in Scotland. However, he added: "It's not the end of the world. It's just a big situation for people to manage.
"It creates uncertainty. All licensees are concerned about it. But the Irish have adapted to it. Why should Scotland be any different?"
Belhaven's pubs business increased profit by 27.9 per cent to 15.1m in the year to 3 April, helped by the acquisition of 47 new outlets in the year.
Meanwhile, the brewing business managed an 8.1 per cent increase in profits, to 8.58m.
Stuart Ross's remuneration rose by 51,000 - or 18 per cent - to 333,000 in the year.
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