Scots drinkers help slow pub closures north or the border

Scotland has lost more than 1,000 pubs in the past ten years but Scots appear to be holding on to the pleasures of going out for a drink '“ for now.

People still enjoy going to the pub in Scotland but more booze is being consumed at home than ever before.
People still enjoy going to the pub in Scotland but more booze is being consumed at home than ever before.

Figures show that 1,084 pubs have closed since 2006 - the year the smoking ban was introduced – with a total of 1,326 closures reported by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) since 2013.

It estimates that up to two pubs are shutting every week in Scotland with the new lower drink drive limit helping to sink businesses, particularly in rural areas.

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But the losses seem to be slower than those recorded south of the border, where the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) estimated that between 30 and 50 pubs are closing a week in some areas.

Anne Taylor behind the bar at The Goth Pub Prestonpans.

Separate health data published last year also shows that Scots continue to buy slightly more alcohol (4 per cent) in pubs and bars than drinkers in England and Wales.

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But the rate of alcohol being consumed at home after being bought from supermarkets and off licences continues to rise in Scotland – and is now at its highest level since records began at 72 per cent.

Paul Waterson of the SLTA suggests that the compounding effect of the drink drive limit with the earlier impact of the smoking ban makes pubs less able to fight back and build trade.

Anne Taylor behind the bar at The Goth Pub Prestonpans.

He said: “If we had been allowed to keep our smokers we would be in a better position to ride this difficult period.

“Around 80 per cent of our three and five-nights a week drinkers were smokers so pubs have lost a significant number of customers

“The biggest problem we have got now of course is the new drink driving limit.

We have seen the majority of pubs lose around 10 per cent of business in the last year. Many have lost 15 to 17 per cent.”

Mr Waterson said the effects of the smoking ban were mitigated to an extent by pubs offering better food but that there was less opportunity to react to the changes in drink driving laws.

He added: “When you don’t have people coming through the door, its very difficult for pubs to keep going.”

Mr Waterson said it was possible the closure rate of pubs in England was higher due to their simply being “more pubs” and a higher rate of tenanted pubs (65 per cent) owned by big breweries, with the model less likely to succeed. More independent pubs were operated in Scotland, he said.

The two legislative moves against the trade in Scotland come at a time when alcohol is an estimated three times more expensive when bought in a pub in Scotland (£1.66 pence per unit) when compared to a supermarket (52 pence per unit).

However, drinking at home is considered more high risk by health professionals and police, given lack of regulation and security. Abuse of alcohol is estimated to kill 20 Scots a week.

As pro-pub groups continue to campaign for better industry support, Camra has recently launched its manifesto ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections. It calls for improvements in the public transport system to offset the effects of the new lower drink drive limit.

Ray Turpie, director for Camra in Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: “Of course we would never condone drinking and driving but it (the new limit) has certainly changed behaviour.

“We are finding out that people will no longer go for a pint on the way home from work, for example. That is so many thousands and thousands of pounds a week not being spent in pubs.

“Better public transport could make a big difference to the community pubs out there, but also to the communities in general.”

Camra has encouraged publicans to offer customers its two pint or four pint takeaway cartons so that customers could drop in for a half-pint - and safely go home with more.

“It’s just an example of some of the things that publicans can do to try and keep trade up, “ Mr Turpie said,

He added: “The publicans have to help themselves.

“We are campaigning for changes on a national scale but we can’t spoon feed the publicans.

“Some pubs you go into and they haven’t even got a bus time table behind the bar and I think that is pretty poor.”

The Goth in Prestonpans is one interesting example of the pub revival where profits on sales are limited to five per cent return with excess put into community benefit. Here, the profits go into the Prestoungrange Arts Festival, with the venue central to events.