Pub group with more than 20 Scottish venues warns closures likely until March

The boss of Marston’s, the pubs group which has been building up its Scottish presence, has warned he does not expect venues to reopen until March at the earliest and even then physical distancing measures are likely to remain in place.

Marston's has a total estate of about 1,400 pubs.
Marston's has a total estate of about 1,400 pubs.

Chief executive Ralph Findlay said government ministers must step up and extend the business rates holiday beyond its current end date in April, and cut VAT when doors finally open again.

“The pub sector has been closed for much of the last nine months and remains in a very difficult position,” he said.

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“Regrettably there have been casualties across the sector and it is vital that the government reviews urgently the opportunity to continue to support pubs as we reopen the economy in the coming weeks.

“Pubs are viable businesses which are part of the social fabric of Britain and which make a major contribution to the economy and the communities in which they serve.

“It is vital that they not only survive the short-term crisis but are supported in order to recover and flourish.

“Extending the business rates holiday and VAT cut for the rest of this year is a minimum requirement.”

His comments came as the firm, whose 20-odd Scottish venues include the Old Colliery on the outskirts of Edinburgh and the Sweet Chestnut in Dunfermline, said trading was materially disrupted in the 13 weeks to January 2 as tier restrictions and another national lockdown in England forced many pubs to close or reduce service.

Total revenues across its estate of about 1,400 pubs during the three-month period was just £54 million. In 2019 sales had been £1.17 billion.

The company said that, despite the disruption, it remains focused on the strategic development of the business and will use £233m collected from a joint venture with Carlsberg UK to reduce debts.

It added: “When restrictions are lifted we expect consumer demand to be strong and that our pub estate, which is predominately located in suburban locations, will be well positioned.”

Bosses added that during the quarter they focused on cash preservation with all non-essential spend avoided. Around 97 per cent of staff are currently furloughed.

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