Wetherspoon boss calls for UK pubs to open at same time as non-essential shops

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·3-min read
Boris Johnson with JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin on 10 July 2019 in London. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Boris Johnson with JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin on 10 July 2019 in London. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Wetherspoon (JDW.L) chairman Tim Martin is calling on the government to reopen pubs at the same time as non-essential shops.

In a statement released this morning, the pub tycoon said that the industry is "on its knees" and that reopening would save jobs.

The calls come ahead of the UK's reassessment of lockdown measures. The UK hospitality industry and non-essential retail have been shuttered since the beginning of the year, while the country gets caseloads of COVID-19 under control.

The end of coronavirus job support, and the wrapping up of furlough measures is also on the not-too-distant horizon.

Watch: Wetherspoon boss calls for pubs to reopen

Alongside the plea, Martin also told Sky News on Monday that he intends to bring back the 37,000 staff that are currently on furlough as soon as the chain gets the go-ahead to reopen.

Martin said that the pub industry makes a massive contribution to the economy, and Wetherspoon alone pays about £10 ($13.90) of tax for every pound of profit it makes.

Wetherspoon stock ticked up 3.7% following the opening bell in London following the release. It was still up by mid-afternoon in London, when it had risen more than 4.5%. 

Wetherspoon stock as still up more than 4% by 3.15pm in London.
Wetherspoon stock as still up more than 4% by 3.15pm in London.

Martin said: “In the last 10 years Wetherspoon has generated £6.1bn of taxes, something we are very proud of.

“In the financial year to July 2019, before the pandemic, Wetherspoon, its customers and employees generated £764m of taxes (please see table below), one pound in every thousand collected by the UK government.

“The amount of tax paid by Wetherspoon is replicated, according to the size of the company, throughout the pub industry, and shows just how important pubs are to the economy.”

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“The taxes paid by Wetherspoon are mirrored by thousands of companies which have been annihilated by lockdowns."

Martin said that since reopening in the summer following lockdown, the chain had clocked up more than 50 million customer visits using test and trace. He said there had not been a single outbreak of COVID-19, as defined by the health authorities, among its customers.

Industry groups UK Hospitality and the British Bear and Pub Association have also joined these calls, showing evidence that they say shows pubs and restaurants are COVID-secure environments.

The UK hospitality industry has pumped in millions into safety and hygiene measures.

“As the BBPA has pointed out, outbreaks have been concentrated in environments such as care homes, households and hospitals," Martin continued.

READ MORE: Pressure on UK government to map 'clear route out of the crisis'

“Surely it is possible for the hospitality industry to reopen at the same time as non-essential shops, now that a vaccine exists, on the basis of the social distancing and hygiene regulations, which were agreed with the health authorities, after full consultation, for the July 4 reopening last year.

“Unless the industry does reopen on that basis, economic mayhem will inevitably follow."

Wetherspoons recently sought to bolster its finances, as it said it expects its pubs to remain closed by lockdown restrictions until April. In January, it said it was burning through around £4.1m a week while pubs were shut.

At the time, the ubiquitous pub chain raised £93.7m in new shares, as it battles to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?