Wetherspoons blasts Sturgeon's tiered system as 'extremely onerous' as sales plummet

Pubs giant JD Wetherspoon has blasted the Scottish Government’s “extremely onerous tier system” saying it was having a “serious effect on trade”.

The vast JD Wetherspoon pub portfolio includes the Caley Picture House in Edinburgh.
The vast JD Wetherspoon pub portfolio includes the Caley Picture House in Edinburgh.

The attack came as the group, which has 64 pubs trading in Scotland, revealed that first-quarter sales had plunged 27.6 per cent. It warned that it will burn through some £14 million while 756 pubs are forced to close for a month as a result of the second English lockdown.

The company’s vocal founder and chairman Tim Martin 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.

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“The entire regulatory situation is a complete muddle. However, the initial regulations, following reopening, introduced on July 4, were carefully thought through, followed thorough consultation, and were based on solid scientific foundations of social distancing and hygiene.

“The benefits of the regulatory hyperactivity since then, including the imposition of a curfew, are questionable.”

The group, whose Scottish pubs include the Caley Picture House in Edinburgh and Dunfermline’s Guildhall & Linen Exchange, now in tier three of the Scottish Government’s restrictions, said sales in October were “significantly lower” than during the summer months, following the imposition of new restrictions.

It pointed to changes in the tier categories across the UK, a 10pm curfew, a requirement to order all food and drink at the table and the mandatory use of face masks when moving around inside pubs.

For the 15 weeks to November 8, like-for-like sales decreased by 27.6 per cent.

The group undertook a share placing in April that raised £137.7m, while £48.3m was raised through the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme in August. It had £234m of liquidity on October 25 and bosses noted that liquidity was “significantly higher, and current liabilities are lower, than before the March lockdown”.

Freetrade analyst David Kimberley said: “It’s easy to be snooty about Tim Martin’s criticisms of governmental restrictions, especially when he makes rather eccentric comments to support them.

“But when you’ve just failed to turn a profit for the first time in 36 years and are bleeding money every day, it’s also understandable why the Wetherspoon chairman is more than a little peeved.

“The latest lockdown is a disaster for the company. Pubs regularly generate a third of their yearly revenue in the last two months of the year. The only potential to stem these losses could have been some sort of takeaway service but it seems that Mr Martin’s company has no plans to do that.”

Martin added: “A particular anxiety in the hospitality industry relates to the future timescale for the ending of ‘temporary’ regulations.

“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.”

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