RUNNING a pub used to be a "licence to print money" but those days are long gone with spiralling costs, staff shortages and low footfall posing huge problems for those behind the bar.

Jeff Ellis, secretary of the Fife Licensed Trade Association, said that, after the initial impact of the pandemic and two lockdowns, there are new challenges to overcome.

He told the Press: "I think a lot of the businesses are struggling as the pressure is now coming from the costs.

"The furlough scheme has finished and the business rates holiday is ending, so those costs are coming back, plus a lot of suppliers seem to be trying to claw back lost earnings for the last couple of years and their price increases, plus the general rise in energy prices and cost of living increases, have been substantial.

"These costs have to be passed on to the customer at a time when, in my view, footfall has not recovered to pre-COVID levels.

"So being more expensive is not an ideal way to attract more footfall.

"It's not universally bad, some pubs are back to pre-COVID levels, but an awful lot are struggling and only firing on two cylinders."

Colin Boyle, FLTA membership secretary who is based in Dunfermline, said: "There is a tremendous resilience from people here to keep their businesses going.

"A lot of it is out of loyalty to the customers that supported them, they don't want to let the locals down.

"I was in the East Port Bar recently which was busy. It did look like some people came in, thought it was too busy and left again, and that's only natural.

"People are still worried about their health. It was a good atmosphere and I enjoyed it but I don't think footfall levels are back to what they were.

"And God knows what will happen at the next rates evaluation, and there's one due, if more pubs are moved into that bracket.

"There's barely anything on high streets, there are gaps everywhere, but councils still want their pound of flesh so if more pubs have to pay rates, that could be the final nail in the coffin for a lot of them as they can't afford that.

"Pubs are getting hammered just now, it's more or less £200 a week, £800 a month, and if they're renting the premises, that's on top of the rent when some of the turnovers just now are way down."

He continued: "Historically, the sector has been hit by the smoking ban, minimum wage – which we supported – and the lowering of the drink-drive limit had a big effect too.

"They're in the past but they had a big impact on turnover.

"Now there's COVID and a whole new set of issues.

"Older members used to say, privately, that the pubs were a licence to print money. Not now. These are very different times.

"Now, there's a very ageing estate ownership, pubs that have been in the family for years and years but the kids see their parents working 80-hour weeks for peanuts and don't want to do that."

While Jeff admitted there was a "big sigh of relief" last week when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that vaccine passports would not be needed to gain entry to hospitality venues, there are plenty of other COVID concerns.

He added: "There are still a lot of people who are not vaccinated, and who won't get the vaccine, and who won't wear masks either.

"And you have the added problem that for a lot of people, and it tends to be the older clientele, once they've changed their habits, it's hard to change them back.

"They've become used to drinking at home, it's cheaper and you can get it delivered, while many are not comfortable in the pub environment now, as a lot of people don't seem to bother with masks or pay any attention to social-distancing.

"The ones that used to be regulars, they'd be in for a couple of pints every tea-time, a lot of them are staying away."

Jeff continued: "On top of that, for a lot of the hospitality trade, the problem is in getting staff.

"With pubs closed, a lot of people left the sector and didn't come back, while a particular Brexit-related issue has been trying to get skilled staff, such as cooks and chefs.

"We don't have enough home-grown people to do these jobs and I can't see that changing any time soon.

"The effect of all that is there's been a lot of poaching of staff going on and pay rates have shot up."