Time is called at 700 Scottish pubs since smoking ban
MORE than 700 pubs have closed in Scotland since the smoking ban was brought in four years ago, a report has shown.
Research commissioned by the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign revealed that 11.1 per cent of pubs north of the Border have shut their doors since legislation outlawed smoking in enclosed public places.
According to the report by CS Consulting, Scotland had 6,610 pubs when it became the first part of the UK to bring in a smoking ban in April 2006. Within four years, this number had fallen by 737 to 5,873.
The figures show that, in 2005, the annual rate of decline was only 0.4 per cent, but a year after the ban, this had risen to 5.6 per cent and within three years to 8 per cent.
Simon Clark, director of Save Our Pubs and Clubs, said: "Politicians can bury their heads in the sand and pretend otherwise, but there is no doubt that the smoking ban has had a devastating effect."
In Ireland, 11 per cent of pubs had shut within four years of the smoking ban there coming into effect.
And in England and Wales - where smoking in public places was banned in 2007 - the report revealed that more than 7 per cent of pubs had closed after almost three years.
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Oliver Griffiths, director of CS Consulting, said the decline of the British pub had started before the smoking ban but at a low level.
"The ban had a sudden and marked impact, accelerating the rate of decline," he said.
The report suggested other factors, such as cheap drink prices in supermarkets, had had an impact on the pub trade. However, Mr Griffiths said: "While it is not the only factor in the closure of pubs, the smoking ban is demonstrably the most significant cause of pub closures."
He said the figures suggested a further 2,000 pubs could be lost in England and Wales by July 2011, while in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, closures could continue at similar rates for a further year, and probably longer.
Paul Waterson, president of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said: "This research shows how badly Scottish pubs have been hit by the indoor smoking ban, cut-price supermarket competition and regulation."
He claimed Scotland's pubs were "a national asset that are in peril" and added: "It is time to have a joined-up approach that aims to help our industry and the major role it has in the economy and society, not allow it to be driven into the ground."
An industry insider said many pubs were now struggling to stay open."Hotels and restaurants are doing reasonably well, but the pubs are toiling," he said.
"People are not coming out to pubs now, or, if they are, they are coming out late at night after topping up with cheap drink from supermarkets.
"The reality is now that the old-fashioned pub is struggling to make ends meet unless it can diversify into food or entertainment."
He said pubs faced a price fight by charging 2 to 3.50 a pint, while supermarkets were selling boxes of beer for the equivalent of 69p a pint.
He said, in addition, pub owners were facing paying for more expensive licences and extra costs to meet criteria such as minimum wage regulations.
Patrick Browne, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said he was not surprised at the number of closures in the last four years.
"Its a culmination of factors. Community-style pubs did take a hit for the first two years after the smoking ban was introduced, but that came and went. The issue now is there is much more competition from supermarkets and the general economic downturn."
But Amanda Sandford, from lobby group Action on Smoking and Health, said: "Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence of overall harm to the licensed trade. In fact, alcohol on-sales licences increased by 5 per cent in the first year following the smoking ban."
She said the survey was "misleading" and did not reflect the "reality of the licensed trade", adding: "True, many traditional pubs have closed, but more licensed premises have opened in recent years that now sell food as well as alcohol."
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