THE total number of licensed premises grew by 100 over the year to March last year – but experts warned there were no signs of a halt to the decline of the Scottish hospitality sector.
The latest liquor licensing statistics show the overall number of licences in force on 31 March 2012 was around 16,400 – up by 100 on the 2011 figure of around 16,300.
But around 70 per cent of the total licences granted over the period were for off-sale businesses such as supermarkets and off-licences, rather than on-sale venues including bars and restaurants.
The new figures showed Edinburgh is the pub and restaurant capital of Scotland – boasting more than 10 per cent of the licensed premises in the country, according to the report released by the Scottish Government.
Edinburgh holds 1,851 liquor licences for premises – 103 more than Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city.
The Highlands boasted the next largest number of licences at 1,212. The statistics also showed that a total of 445 applications, Scotland-wide, were for new licenses.
Members of the pub trade said the slight increase was not reflected in the on-sales sector of pubs, bars and restaurants.
A large number of pubs and bars closed in the wake of the recession as people opted to stay at home to eat and drink. Around three pubs in Scotland were shutting every week, according to figures released last year by the Campaign for Real Ale society.
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said: “Our information is that a number of pubs are still closing every week in Scotland and we are now a nation of stay-at-home drinkers. It remains a very difficult time for the trade.”
Patrick Browne, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pubs Association, added: “Even if the majority of this increase was in the on-trade, which it is not likely to be, it would not anywhere near get us back to where we were before the recession.”
Alcohol campaign groups warned that a high concentration of licensed premises in the same area encouraged “risky drinking”.
Barbara O’Donnell, deputy chief executive at Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Evidence shows there is a link between areas with a high number of alcohol outlets and increased risky drinking and alcohol harm, particularly violence.
“If we want to reduce the high level of alcohol consumption and harm within our communities, we must take action to reduce overall availibity.”
She added: “Our recent publication, Rethinking Alcohol Licensing, highlights the evidence and shows the links between availability and harm.”
Some 6 per cent of applications were refused by local council licensing boards, however, the figures are not comparable with historical statistics, other than those from the previous year, due to changes in the manner in which licenses are administered under current licensing arrangements.
The new Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 came into force in September 2009 and the latest report reflects the second full year of operation under the new arrangements.