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Pub trade faces up to a ‘critical’ year ahead

Almost half of Northern Ireland’s pubs and bars laid off staff last year and confidence among publicans in the licensed trade for the rest of 2010 is low, according to new research.

The Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade (FRLT) said its survey showed difficulties experienced by the pub trade last year were greater than predicted. It found 44% of its members across the province laid off staff compared to 24% that had expected to, and 83% cut staff hours, far more than the 60% who anticipated they would.

The proportion of FRLT members who said the economic climate was having a serious impact on their business also increased to 70%, up from 40% last year. The trade body has around 1,000 members, over 70% of the industry in Northern Ireland.

Colin Neill, chief executive of the FRLT, said: “The pub trade plays a vital role in our economy, contributing £1bn annually and employing over 34,000 people. However, these jobs are in serious jeopardy and urgent action needs to be taken to halt this decline as the trade faces a critical twelve months ahead.”

Competition from below-cost supermarket pricing was highlighted by 70% of publicans as the issue of greatest concern in the year ahead. FRLT also found that one in every 20 pubs expects to close by the end of 2010 — equivalent to 100 local pubs closing their doors. One in five publicans expects to lay off more staff and 57% said they would likely have to reduce staff working hours again.

Mr Neill added: “At the present time 61% of publicans feel the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly are not supportive of the trade and, at a local level, we would urge the Government to review rates and push forward the current proposals to introduce minimum pricing to curb the below-cost selling of alcohol by the supermarket multiples.

“At a national level there is still more work to do as the UK Government has proven in recent years that it views the alcohol industry as an easy source of revenue. In the past two years the duty on alcohol has been raised by 20% and we anticipate a further 2% increase in the Budget this week which will further reduce margins.”