Wetherspoon Reports Losses As Lockdown And 10pm Curfew Hits Sales

JD Wetherspoon have announced a pre-tax loss of £105m, as coronavirus rules impact on sales.

Total sales in the financial year were £1.26bn, compared to £1.82bn last year – a decrease of 30.6%.

Like-for-like sales decreased by 29.5%, having increased by 5.9% in the first half. Bar sales decreased by 29.3%, food sales by 30.1%, slot/fruit machine sales by 20.9% and hotel room sales by 38.7%.

Chairman Tim Martin attacked “massive confusion” over the government’s coronavirus rules, saying that he thought the UK should adopt the Swedish model for pandemics which has chosen to keep large parts of society open while social distancing is promoted, to allow his pubs to open again properly.

Quoting business scion Warren Buffett from 1989, Mr Martin said governments across the world have based their lockdown decisions on “deeply flawed analysis” and attacked politicians and the media who reported that the company was considering withholding wages at the start of lockdown – a decision that was eventually not taken.”

“As a result of recent changes in regulations, the outlook for pubs over the remainder of the current financial year is even more unpredictable than hitherto,” comments Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin.

“The most damaging regulation relates to the 10pm curfew, which has few supporters outside of the narrow cloisters of Downing Street and SAGE meetings. This has meant that many thousands of hospitality industry employees, striving to maintain hygiene and social-distancing standards, go off duty at 10pm, leaving people to socialise in homes and at private events which are, in reality, impossible to regulate.

“Like-for-like sales in the first 11 weeks [of this financial year] have been 15% below those of last year, with strong sales in the first few weeks, followed by a marked slowdown since the introduction of a curfew and other regulations, some of which are referred to above.

“The recent curfew and introduction of table service only have been particularly damaging for trade, depressing sales for customers who find it too much ‘faff’, at the same time as substantially increasing costs”.

“The company has successfully adapted its business, over the last 41 years, to cope with widely different political and economic circumstances. We now employ over 40,000 people, 10,000 of whom are shareholders in the company, and are a major contributor to national income, paying approximately one pound in every thousand of treasury receipts in 2019 and in preceding years.

“However, the company and the entire hospitality industry need a more sensible and consistent regulatory framework in which to operate – the current environment of lockdowns, curfews and constantly changing regulations and announcements threatens not only pub companies, but the entire economy. The most important lesson, as Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University has said, is that “lockdown just defers the problem; it doesn’t solve it”.”