SCOTLAND’S leading licensed trade association and oldest National On-trade protection group is marking its 140th anniversary in 2020 and wants to use the milestone to encourage and inspire a new generation of licensees to take an active role in protecting and developing the industry.
The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), was established in 1880 following a meeting of licensed trade operators from Glasgow, Edinburgh and most of the larger towns in Scotland, in the Athole Arms Hotel in Dundas Street, Glasgow.
Initially called the Scottish Wine Spirit and Beer Trade Defence Association, the group’s original aim was to “thoroughly unite the whole spirit trade of Scotland for the purpose of protecting their interest during the progress of any Bill introduced in Parliament detrimental to the spirit trade.
According to a chapter on the founding of the association from a book marking the SLTA’s centenary published in 1980, licensees were “acutely conscious of an ever-increasing struggle for survival as their trade was becoming more involved in national politics”.
It continued: “There was a pressing need for joint action in regard to legislative issues affecting all branches of the trade.”
Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director, said: “It’s interesting that the concerns of the trade 140 years ago were very similar to some of those today – there was recognition that working together and collaborating would give the industry a stronger voice in the corridors of Parliament when it came to key issues.
“While several local licensed trade associations had already been established across Scotland, many of those involved took the view that a national association would be more effective.”
It was realised, however, by those who had taken an active part in their formation that the benefits, which such associations undoubtedly effected in respect of legislation, would be greatly increased were they united by a national association which could consult and be consulted by all parties interested in trade affairs.
“A central representative organisation would also express a united voice on matters affecting their joint concerns.”
The SLTA’s Colin Wilkinson said that while the structure of the association had evolved to become less wieldy and more streamlined, its raison d’être in some areas remained unchanged. “A significant part of what we do is to work with and lobby government to ensure that the decisions made in Holyrood are the right ones for the licensed trade,” he said. “It is absolutely crucial that we have access to the decision-makers and that’s where a strong trade association can step in to represent the concerns and views of the industry.
“The challenges facing the industry in the modern age are more complicated, of course, but our ethos is the same as it was in 1880 – to protect our members and promote and develop our amazing industry.”
Today, the SLTA is run like a business with robust financial controls and clear strategies in place, overseen by a non-executive advisory board. The body has witnessed a major restructure and there is renewed focus on revenue, recruitment, training and collaboration.
“We’ve made some bold decisions for the long-term benefit of our membership and our willingness to collaborate with other trade associations on certain issues such as the fight against increases in business rates, VAT on tourism and the deposit return scheme (DRS) to name just a few gives us more clout and a stronger, louder voice.”
But as the SLTA moves into the next phase of its history, it is vital that a new generation of licensees gets involved.
“We’re fortunate in that we have a strong regional council and, of course, our non-executive board,” said Wilkinson. “We have also engaged with the younger element of the licensed trade by working with the Scottish Bartenders Network and offering all Personal Licence Holders free registration with the SLTA.
“The next part of that strategy is to encourage the younger generation to take a more active role in the SLTA – their ideas, energy and enthusiasm, combined with the experience and knowledge of our long-established industry figures, will make us even more relevant as we go forward.
“Trade associations have long been saddled with the view that they are an old-fashioned entity governed by tradition and chains of office,” Wilkinson pointed out. “Over the years we’ve made the changed necessary to move away from that image but we still need younger operators to work with us and help us continue to evolve.”
The SLTA has certainly evolved in that it no longer simply represents the pub trade – today’s modern trade association encompasses everything from traditional bars and pubs to restaurants, nightclubs and hotels.
“We have to look at the wider picture and bear in mind that collaboration with others will give us a stronger voice and help the licensed trade stand out as an important industry that offers worthwhile careers and prospects for thousands of people.”
The final paragraph of the centenary book’s chapter on the founding of the association refers to the “forces of Temperance gathering on the horizon” and the “prospect of increased taxation”. The way ahead, it stated, would not be an “easy road”.
“As we start a new decade,” concluded Wilkinson, “we know that the road is not always going to be an easy one so we’re in the same boat as we were 140 years ago in that respect.
“What has changed, though, is the SLTA as an organisation – we are clear on what we need to do and why, we have the right people in place to drive our strategies and we are ready to embrace all the new and existing challenges that are coming our way. The SLTA’s door is open to all in the trade and we encourage anyone involved in this industry to contact the SLTA on anything relating to one of Scotland’s leading industries”. Any new generation licensee interested in becoming an Ambassador for the SLTA and having their say through our various social media channels, please get in touch for more details on this new development the SLTA is progressing”.