JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin blasts 'baffling' Covid restrictions

JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin blasts ‘baffling and confusing’ Covid restrictions as pub chain reveals second lockdown will cost it up to £14million

  • JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin called coronavirus restrictions ‘baffling’
  • Wetherspoons expects £14m losses while pubs are closed in second lockdown
  • Chain reported 27.6% plunge in first-quarter sales in the 15 weeks to November 8
  • Trade experts predict up to 12,000 British pubs will not reopen after lockdown

JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has lashed out at ‘baffling and confusing’ coronavirus restrictions as the pub chain revealed that England’s second national lockdown will cost it around £14 million.

Mr Martin’s latest attack on government measures came as Wetherspoon reported a 27.6 per cent plunge in first-quarter sales for the 15 weeks to November 8 following the introduction of the 10pm curfew.

It added it will burn through around £14 million while its pubs are forced to close in the second lockdown.

Founder and Chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin is pictured at the Hamilton Hall pub, Liverpool Street, London, October 16 2020, ahead of the second lockdown

Mr Martin, who is chairman of Wetherspoon, said: ‘For any pub or restaurant company trading in different parts of the UK, and for customers generally, the constantly changing national and local regulations, combined with geographical areas moving from one tier to another in the different jurisdictions, are baffling and confusing.

‘The entire regulatory situation is a complete muddle.’

The benefits of the tougher restrictions since late September – including the curfew, table service and mandatory use of face masks when moving around pubs – are ‘questionable’, according to the outspoken pub chief.

He added that the sector is concerned about how long the temporary regulations will remain in place, citing that afternoon closing of pubs introduced in the First World War was only abolished in 1986.

A Wetherspoon worker serves people at the Goldengrove in Stratford, East London, on July 4

Wetherspoon now owns 872 pubs, down from 879 the previous year and a high of 951 in 2015 (top left); The company’s turnover plunged from £1.82billion to £1.26billion in the year to July 26, 2020 (top right); Average weekly sales including VAT in 2020 were down on the year before, but still up on 2018 (bottom left); Wetherspoon reported a loss ‘before exceptional items’ of £34.1million in the year to July 2020. The total loss with exceptional items (such as property losses) for the year was £105million (bottom right)

Current restrictions on pubs during the second national lockdown 

Hospitality venues including cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and social clubs have been forced to close from November 5 to December 2 as part of a second national lockdown. 

Providing a food and drink takeaway service is still permitted before 10pm (but alcohol must be ordered remotely, ahead of time). Click-and-collect, drive-through or delivery is allowed. 

Takeaway pints at pubs and restaurants in England are available during the second lockdown, but it is not as simple as last time.

Following a government U-turn on businesses selling takeaway alcohol, pubs can sell takeaway drinks to customers who order online or by phone, text or post.

Customers are not allowed to enter the premises, but they can enjoy a socially distanced pint with someone from another household in an outdoor public space.

Although outlets have been permitted to sell takeaway food through both lockdowns, Downing Street had previously said they would be banned from selling alcoholic drinks to take away in the second lockdown (this was permitted during the first lockdown) – a decision they have since reversed.

Wetherspoon has 756 pubs currently closed across England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It also has 51 sites in Wales which have just emerged from a two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown, and a further 64 in Scotland, which are ‘subject to an extremely onerous tier system’.

The group said the Scottish restrictions are, as previously reported, having a ‘serious effect on trade’.

But it sought to give reassurances over its balance sheet strength following a share placing in April and lending through the Government’s loans support scheme.          

According to trade experts up to 12,000 of Britain’s pubs will not reopen after the latest lockdown.   

This would mean about a third – 31.9 per cent – of boozers across the country will be forced to close permanently as a result of the emergency Covid-19 measures.

The British Beer and Pub Association has called on longer term support packages to be offered to landlords to prevent losing them forever.

BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: ‘As our sector enters this second lockdown, we are fearful for the future.

‘Sector member research estimates as many as 12,000 pubs are at risk from permanent closure unless the Government provides a longer term support package.

‘Countless breweries and suppliers to pubs are also at very real risk of closing for good due to this second lockdown.

‘We call on the government to take this time to review the restrictions.’

She added they also want cuts to beer duty, continued VAT restrictions and an extended business rate holiday to booster boozers’ chances of survival.

She said pubs and breweries need long term help and they can help kickstart the economy post lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin at the chain’s Metropolitan Bar pub in Marylebone, Central London, on July 10, 2019

It comes as a survey showed 72 per cent of staff in the industry say they are concerned about their short-term job security.

One in five – 42 per cent said they were concerned about the long term and less than half – 49 per cent – revealed they were confident their employer would survive the pandemic.

Chloe Sheerin, consumer research executive from at market researchers C&A, said: ‘This survey illustrates how lockdowns and a steady stream of new restrictions have created widespread anxiety for hospitality professionals.’ 

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