Drink-drive clampdown hits pub chain

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Pub chain Greene King was left nursing a Hogmanay hangover today after saying tougher drink-driving laws in Scotland hit sales.

The group said like-for-like sales were up two per cent in the two weeks over Christmas and New Year across Britain but lower north of the border where a new limit for getting behind the wheel has been introduced.

It limits drivers to having 50mg of alcohol in blood, down from 80mg, making it lower than the rest of the UK.

Poorer weather also had an effect on trade in Scotland, Greene King said.

The Suffolk-based group’s sales for the six weeks to January 11 were flat compared with the period the year before when they had performed strongly. Excluding Scotland, they were up 0.6 per cent.

Chief executive Rooney Anand said: “Sales were encouraging in our retail business over the important two weeks covering Christmas and the New Year, despite a very tough comparative from last year and softer trading in Scotland, following the introduction of tougher drink-driving laws.”

Mr Anand also pointed to a tough consumer environment, with its latest tracker survey showing an eight per cent year-on-year fall in household leisure spending in November.

The group highlighted the big winner for bubbly over the two-week Christmas and New Year period being prosecco, with sales up 78 per cent “indicating that value remains a key consideration for customers”.

Meanwhile, it saw a record 780,000 Christmas bookings, up 3.5 per cent on a like-for-like basis, achieving record retail sales of £3.4m on Christmas Day.

Like-for-like sales for the 36 weeks to January 11 were up 0.6 per cent.

Greene King, based in Bury St Edmunds, operates around 1,900 pubs, restaurants and hotels in England, Wales and Scotland including the Hungry Horse and Loch Fyne brands, and employs 23,000 people.

It brews beers including Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen and Abbot Ale.

Greene King is on course for a £774m takeover of rival Spirit Pub Company to create a firm with more than 3,000 managed and leased pubs.

Mr Anand said today that the exact timing of the deal remained uncertain but it was working with the Competition and Markets Authority and expected it to complete by the end of the first half of this year.