Wetherspoon boss blames government yet again as lockdown set to cost it £14bn

LaToya Harding
·Contributor
·3 min read
A Wetherspoon's bar in central London. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
A Wetherspoon's bar in central London. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) boss Tim Martin has hit out at the government yet again for the changing national and local lockdown regulations, likening virus-induced restrictions to those enforced during the First World War.

The outspoken founder and chairman of the pub chain said the measures were “baffling and confusing,” as the company revealed that England’s second lockdown will cost it around £14m ($18m).

“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,” he said. “The entire regulatory situation is a complete muddle.”

Martin said that the industry was particularly concerned the “future timescale” and how long the temporary regulations will remain in place.

He added: “Veterans of the industry will recall that the afternoon closing of pubs between about 3pm and 6pm was imposed in the First World War, to encourage munitions workers to return to their factories – but the requirement for afternoon closing was only abolished in 1986.”

His comments came as Wetherspoon revealed in a trading update that like-for-like sales in the 15 weeks to 8 November fell by 27.6%.

Sales in October were significantly lower than the previous months due to a number of government restrictions, the company said, including changes in tie categories across the country, a 10pm curfew, a requirement to order all food and drink at tables and the mandatory use of face masks when moving around inside pubs.

READ MORE: UK pub owners call for government support in all Tiers to avoid closures

Wetherspoon has around 756 pubs closed in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The company said 64 of its Scottish pubs are trading, with a further 51 in Wales. However, it said that the Scottish pubs are "subject to an extremely onerous tier system which... is having a serious effect on trade.”

Last month Martin criticised the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis as the pub chain announced its first annual loss in almost 40 years.

Sales fell 30% to £1.26bn in the 12 months to 26 July. The company fell to a pre-tax loss of £34.1m in the period, down from a profit of £102.5m in 2019.

The performance marked the first pre-tax loss for the business since 1984.

Neil Shah, director of research at Edison Group, said: “The inability to accurately forecast the next few months - traditionally busy as a result of the festive season - will inevitably cause some stress for the company.

“But having raised £137.7m and £48.3m through a share placing and Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) respectively, Wetherspoon will likely be confident it can mitigate immediate cash flow concerns and will be buoyed - along with the rest of the hospitality industry - about the promising vaccine developments.”

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