Pubs under investigation for 'irresponsible promotions'

DOZENS of pubs and clubs in the Capital are being investigated for giving discounts on drinks and offering "irresponsible promotions" in breach of new laws.

The Evening News has obtained figures that show investigations have been launched into 65 different licensed premises across Edinburgh by the city's licensing standards officers (LSOs).

Many of the cases refer to pubs that offer "price variations" - different prices for a specific drink to different groups, such as students, old age pensioners or members.

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Officers have been warning pubs that discount cards or loyalty cards, such as the "yellow cards" offered to students in Scream-branded pubs, are not allowed under recent changes to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005.

But licensing experts insist that the issue is confused and the legislation as it stands does not make these unlawful.

Council sources say that it remains unlikely that any of the investigations will be taken further until a verdict is given on a vital test case in Dundee, where pub operator Mitchells & Butlers has appealed a warning for use of the yellow card.

Patrick Browne, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, said: "A lot of the officers in Edinburgh seem to be doing their own thing without any formal approval from the licensing board.

"There is a lot of confusion about this and we believe that the LSOs in Edinburgh have got this badly wrong.

"The (Mitchells & Butlers] appeal was heard in Dundee two weeks ago and we are waiting on the Sheriff's decision.

"This will be case law and it would be premature if the Edinburgh LSOs did anything before the Dundee decision."

The Act states that no promotion can be given that "promotes irresponsible drinking". But Edinburgh's licensing officials are including discount and loyalty cards.

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Mr Browne denied they promote irresponsible drinking because the price is fixed for more than the minimum 72-hour period. He claims that most operators have now withdrawn the discount cards because they want legal advice.

In one such case, the exclusive Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club scrapped its 20 per cent discount offered to members of its golf course after being advised that it was breaching the rules. Doctors bar on Forrest Road is also known to have dropped its promotions when an investigation was launched.

John Loudon, convener of the licensing law sub-committee of the Law Society of Scotland, said many Scottish council areas were not taking action over discount cards.The issue is expected to be addressed in the Scottish Parliament next week during a debate on the Alcohol Bill - set to include a debate about minimum pricing.

Mr Loudon said: "I suspect there may well be changes to address promotions. I have always taken the view that promotions are not necessarily wrong, they just can't be irresponsible.

"The government have been asked before to give clarity and further guidance. They have not yet done that but the ground may shift next Wednesday afternoon.

"If you talk to a number of different people you get a number of different views but I still believe, as I always have, that some of these discount cards are fine. What the legislation wants to stop is being allowed to drink a certain amount for a tenner, not giving an OAP a 20p discount."

The city council was not willing to detail which premises were under investigation. The city's licensing board is the only body that has the power to give a warning to a licensed premises, or to suspend its licence. Labour councillor Eric Barry - a member - said that it has yet to agree its position.

He said: "I think you have to realise that premises can promote products - irresponsible promotions are the problem.

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"Why should pensioners not enjoy a wee tipple at a bargain price? There is a big difference between a bargain and selling alcohol below cost price, which is irresponsible."

When asked why licensing officers were warning pubs not to offer the discount cards, he said: "I was not aware they were. They operate out of our department and are not directly under the control of the board. They do not set the law but sometimes they can get a bee in their bonnet on some issues."

A city council spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment on individual discussions. He added: "Any complaints are investigated to ensure compliance with the Licensing Act and the licensing boards requirements."


DESPITE sweeping changes to drink laws, a range of membership card deals and cheap drinks are still on offer.

The Student Recommended card offers members drinks from 1.75 at the Three Sisters, Biddy Mulligans and Cargo, among others, and 99p at City nightclub.

Snapfax has similar deals on food and drink. However, changes could be made after the Doctors pub was told to cease its drink deals last month.

The Black Bull has its own 20 per cent off Sunday to Thursday deal for students only, while vodka bar Revolution produces its own cards for students and non-students.