It's unfair that pubs have been treated more harshly than supermarkets, says Wetherspoon boss

Tim MartinTim Martin
Tim Martin
Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin has renewed his attack on the Government, claiming that the UK should adopt the Swedish model for pandemics to allow his pubs to open again properly.

Publishing the company’s delayed results, the chairman said it was unfair that pubs have been treated more harshly than supermarkets as he revealed sales fell from £1.82 billion to £1.26 billion in the year to July 26 and the chain sunk to a loss before tax of £105.4 million.

Tim Martin, quoting the famous investor Warren Buffett from 1989, 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.

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He added that like-for-like sales in the 11 weeks since July 26 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 restrictions.

Commenting on the results, Mr Martin, who is the Chairman of J D Wetherspoon plc, said: "The lockdown was far longer than was necessary to achieve its stated objective of ‘flattening the curve’ so as to assist the health service.

"Before pubs reopened, a detailed and comprehensive operating plan for the hospitality industry was nevertheless agreed on among the government, parliamentary committees, UK Hospitality, civil servants and other interested parties."

“The regulations and guidelines reflected in the plan drastically reduced pub capacity, but were carefully thought out and had the backing of the industry, legislators, licensing officials, local authorities and the public.

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“For the two months following reopening, it appeared that the hospitality industry, in difficult circumstances, was adapting to the new régime and was getting ‘back on its feet’, albeit in survival mode."

“It appears that the government and its advisers were clearly uncomfortable as the country emerged from lockdown. They have introduced, without consultation, under emergency powers, an ever-changing raft of ill-thought-out regulations – these are extraordinarily difficult for the public and publicans to understand and to implement.

"None of the new regulations appears to have any obvious basis in science."

“In marked contrast to the consistency of the comparatively successful Swedish approach, which emphasises social distancing, hygiene and trust in the people, the erratic UK government is jumping from pillar to post and is both tightening and tinkering with regulations, so we are now in quasi-lockdown which is producing visibly worse outcomes than those in Sweden, in respect of both health and the economy."

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Speaking at a press conference in London on Friday, the pub chain’s founder and chairman spoke extensively about Covid-19 regulations.

Mr Martin said: “When respiratory infections started to rise in autumn, they (the Government) panicked and started abusing emergency powers, and started shooting from the hip.”

In contrast, he said, the “ice-cool Swedes kept their heads and stuck to social distancing and hand washing”, which he believed was a better option.

Mr Martin said his central London pubs had traded “the worst” through the pandemic, while venues in large city centres outside the capital were “variable”.

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He stressed he was “not belittling Covid-19 in any way”, adding it was “tremendously serious” for many.

But Mr Martin said: “The truth is you certainly can catch Covid in a pub, but it is not the centre of transmission.”

Mr Martin said table service has been particularly costly to the chain and renewed calls on the Government to change regulations which continue to favour supermarkets.

He said: “It makes no sense for supermarkets to be treated more leniently than pubs, since pubs generate far more jobs per pint or meal than do supermarkets, as well as far higher levels of tax."

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