Britain’s pubs and bars have a firm platform from which to deliver economic growth and jobs, but only if they receive the necessary backing from the government, writes Adam Pescod. That was the key message from the Benchmarking Report, published yesterday by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR). The report showed the first signs of positive growth across the full range of indices since the sector was hit by the smoking ban, consumer confidence crash and recession. It also showed operating costs stabilizing for the first time since 2007. For the second year in a row, the average cost of running the average pub stands at 46% of turnover, with an additional 11.4% for rent across the leased sector. The survey also highlighted that investment was back on track, with average capex of 2.5% of turnover. The trend in like-for-like sales also continued to improve – up by 3% in the year to October 2010 compared with a fall of -1.8% in October 2008. Companies with fewer than 10 outlets recorded the highest levels of growth of +5% and over. The survey revealed some inconsistency within the market, however. Whilst food-led operators continued to drive forward, wet-led community outlets, struggled and like-for-like growth flat-lined. Those operating under tied leases in particular struggled - reporting below average capex, margins and growth and a significant increase in rental costs. Kate Nicholls, ALMR strategic affairs director, said: “Taken as a whole these findings reinforce our messages to government – we are an industry well able to generate jobs, invest in community facilities and play a full part in the Big Society. The fact that small, niche operators continue to out-perform the market demonstrates in spades that we are the real engine of growth and the best barometer of business and consumer confidence. We have the potential; we need to be freed from red tape and punitive taxes to deliver that in full.” The survey is approved by the RICS for use in rent setting and valuations.