Comment: Raising a glass to Scotland’s pubs

Heineken is investing a further �4.4m this year. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Heineken is investing a further �4.4m this year. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Pubs are at the heart of communities and Scottish culture. Some of Scotland’s pubs hold a rich history, dating back hundreds of years; others are pillars of communities, providing food and drink, and serving as a place for social cohesion and storytelling.

Pubs are, quite simply, the original social network. Pubs also offer a huge financial contribution to Scotland, adding £1.7 billion to the economy as well as employing almost 60,000 people.

However, some have argued that the future of Scottish pubs and the indispensable value that they bring to the country are under threat. It is certainly true that pubs face increasing competition from coffee shops and casual dining restaurants, as well as stringent regulation in changes to business rates and rising beer duty. Consumer behaviour has also evolved rapidly over recent years. Today’s consumers ask for more than ever from their local pub – from a more premium experience, to a greater variety of products and unrivalled service. Some view these changes as spelling the end for the pub industry. We don’t agree.

Changing consumer tastes in fact represent an exciting opportunity for pubs to evolve their offer and position themselves for long-term, sustainable performance. Heineken truly believes pubs can thrive when they are equipped to meet the needs of their local communities, which is why we have invested millions in our Scottish pubs over the last few years and today have announced that we’ll be investing a further £4.4 million this year. With this investment, we are not just creating better pubs for existing drinkers, we are also broadening their appeal to attract new customers. We work with licensees to identify what their pubs need to best serve their areas, such as beer gardens or a better food offering.

There is also considerable opportunity for the Scottish Government to support the future of our nation’s pubs. Pubs face crippling business rates, rising beer duty rates and increasing labour shortages. Those issues are putting enormous costs on licensees all across Scotland. The Scottish Parliament must focus efforts on supporting all pubs, rather than being distracted by proposed statutory Scottish pubs code legislation which affects a small proportion of the market – less than 17 per cent of Scottish pubs are leased and tenanted.

We think Scotland can learn from the lessons in England and deliver improvements without risking future investment. For pubs to thrive and survive in communities across Scotland, the focus must be on helping all pubs (leased and tenanted or otherwise) on the serious measures that are facing them – business rates, beer duty, and the need for a fairer and balanced system of regulation.

If we work together, I believe there is a very bright future for pubs in Scotland.

- Lawson Mountstevens, UK managing director, Star Pubs & Bars, Heineken