Home Business Pushback: Pub chain JD Wetherspoon slams UK coronavirus restrictions

Pushback: Pub chain JD Wetherspoon slams UK coronavirus restrictions

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PUB chain J D Wetherspoon has accused the British government of panicking and “shooting from the hip” with new coronavirus restrictions it said could damage the entire UK economy, after it reported its first annual loss since 1984. Pubs, restaurants and other leisure businesses were ordered to shut early across England last month, and a three-tier system now requires pubs and bars in areas of “very high” infections to close. Wetherspoons, which along with other hospitality firms had been recovering before the new system came into effect, said like-for-like sales in the first 11 weeks of its new financial year were down 15pc, compared to a 30pc fall for fiscal 2019-2020. The pub group, run by chairman Tim Martin, an outspoken critic of coronavirus restrictions, reported a £34m (€37.5m) pre-tax loss for the year to July 26, versus a profit of £102m a year earlier. “The current environment of lockdowns, curfews and constantly changing regulations and announcements threatens not only pub companies, but the entire economy,” Mr Martin said. He said trade had picked up when pubs reopened in July, helped by the “sensational” success of the government-funded ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme in August and cuts in sales tax. Shares in Wetherspoon fell 14pc to 822 pence after it announced a further 108 job cuts. Wetherspoons cut some beer prices under the banner “Sunak’s Specials” and offered food deals called “Dishi Rishi”. But when COVID cases started to rise, the government “panicked and started using emergency powers and shooting from the hip”, Mr Martin said. “We’ve had a palette of ever-changing regulations since then; people find it very hard to understand and live with.” In August, it said it would cut up to 130 jobs at its head office and last month added that 400 to 450 airport employees could lose their jobs as it deals with depressed demand. This follows Marston’s announcement on Thursday of up to 2,150 job losses, and warnings from pub bosses across northern England that the latest round of restrictions will wipe out their businesses. Mr Martin said sales of drinks that appeal to younger people had risen as a proportion of the total, with shooters and cocktails overtaking real ale. “The nightclub crowd, how desperate must they be to go to Wetherspoons,” he said. “And having to social distance at the same time.”

Reuters

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