In an increasingly online world, where community spaces such as banks and post offices appear to be closing at an increasingly alarming pace, the local pub is more important than ever. Pubs provide a space for real-world interaction, where colleagues bond, friends meet, tourists eat, families spend quality time together and yes, sometimes, that spark of romance is lit.
Pubs are facing unprecedented challenges though, and in recent years, the sector has sadly seen a significant increase in premises closing. In 2010, there were 5,304 pubs in Scotland, but last year the total stood at just 4,559 – a 14 per cent fall in eight years with almost two pubs closing every week over this period.
This loss of community pubs highlights the urgent need to protect and invest in the sector. As an industry we are committed to ensuring that Scottish pubs can continue to innovate and adapt to deliver world class food and drink, in relaxed, welcoming and friendly environments.
One of the best aspects of my day job at Star Pubs & Bars is transforming pubs through major investment programmes. We want Scottish pubs to prosper at the heart of their communities for generations to come, and believe they can do so when they are well invested and run by good, motivated operators. Last year Star Pubs & Bars invested £4.4 million on 14 major transformational refurbishments across Scotland from Inverness to Edinburgh, including the Old Oak, Rutherglen.
As chair of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, I also know that our industry makes a massive economic contribution to Scotland.
Our latest data has revealed that brewing and pubs in Scotland directly employ almost 52,000 people and support the employment of 15,000 more. We make an enormous £1.66 billion overall contribution to the Scottish economy, including £950 million in taxes and £780 million in wages.
Pubs continue to operate in very difficult conditions though. As a sector, we face many challenges – from changing consumer habits, to recruitment shortages and the pressures posed by taxation. We welcome, and indeed rely on the support of policy makers to protect, promote and strengthen our industry. We hope that progress can be made this year on issues of pressing concern such as business rates reform.
We also ask that any new regulations or legislation which might impact our sector are carefully considered, with the voice of the pub sector heard clearly in Holyrood and that the multiple benefits we bring are not forgotten.
Beyond our asks of Government and parliamentarians, the pub industry is also stepping up to meet these challenges and this year is set to proceed with a number of exciting initiatives.
We will be providing more choice by offering tenants greater flexibility to sell locally-sourced cask ales and craft beer in our pubs. We will support, and roll out further, the innovative Society of Independent Brewers Beerflex scheme, as well as providing tailored solutions to individual tenants.
This will allow access to a broad range of Scottish beers and help to support independent Scottish brewers by providing routes to market. It will introduce even greater flexibility and choice to current and future tenancy and lease agreements across the sector.
We will also be supporting Scottish communities by rolling out ‘Pub is the Hub’. Under this innovative scheme, we will provide funding for pubs to host community services such as post offices, local shops, tourist information and other important local organisations and activities on their premises.
We will also publish an annual independent State of the Nation report on the Scottish pub sector, which will include up-to-date data and analysis of the key challenges facing licensees. This will offer real and valuable insight into the industry.
Finally, we have committed to strengthening and promoting tenant rights through the creation of the Scottish Pubs Governing Body.
We will review and promote the industry-leading Scottish code of practice, which gives tenants and lessees extensive rights, including access to Scottish arbitration panels and procedures where disputes arise.
We will promote the code and ensure tenants and lessees are fully aware of their rights and are informed of these prior to signing new or extension contractual agreements and are regularly reminded about their rights.
Working together across our industry, and in close partnership with our parliamentarians and policy makers, we believe we can revitalise and strengthen Scotland’s pub sector, ensuring people across Scotland can still enjoy a pint, a chat – and potentially even find love – in their local for years to come.
Brian Davidson, president of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association and operations director for Scotland at Star Pubs & Bars.