MAJOR Hampshire pub owner Punch Taverns has beaten gloomy forecasts for the industry in the wake of the smoking ban by recording a jump in profits.

The company, which owns 62 pubs in and around Southampton, including the Highfield pub in Highfield Lane, pictured, the Malvern Tavern in Shirley as well as three on the Bevois Valley Road - the Hobbit, the So Bar and Kolebka, toasted profits of £305m, up eight per cent.

During the past year, bosses have bought ten pubs in the region at a cost of £8.7m and say they are still on the lookout for either packages of pubs or single outlets.

The year also saw the firm pour £5.6m into refurbishment schemes at its pubs in the region.

Giles Thorley, chief executive of Punch Taverns, said: "This has been a year of intense activity, significant operational change and business improvement for the group. We are continuing to further improve the quality of our estate whilst maintaining the robust nature of the business model. We are pleased to have once again delivered a strong set of results despite the challenges of the last quarter of the year.

"While the sector is experiencing a degree of uncertainty and is not without its short-term challenges, we remain confident about the long-term future prospects for the business."