Wetherspoon to cut jobs after swinging to a loss

Tim Martin hits out at 'erratic' government policy but praises soft-touch approach adopted by Sweden as shares plunge

Tim Martin
Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin 

JD Wetherspoon will axe jobs up to 450 jobs at its airport pubs after trading plummeted and the pub chain swung into the red. 

The pub group sunk to a £105m pre-tax loss after sales declined by almost a third to £1.26bn for the year to July 26. The loss before exceptional items came in at £34.1m. 

Shares fell more than 13pc to 830p and have more than halved since the start of the year. 

Wetherspoon said it had started a consultation process to reduce staff numbers at its pubs in airports by up to 450 , where sales are generally much lower and where a high percentage are still closed. It has already cut 108 jobs from its head office

Tim Martin, the company's chairman, hit out at the Government's "erratic" handling of the pandemic, while praising the soft-touch approach adopted by Sweden.

He also said it was unfair that pubs have been treated harsher than supermarkets during the crisis, and called for "tax equality" among supermarkets, pubs and restaurants.

Mr Martin said: "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.

"Risk cannot be eliminated completely in pubs, but sensible social distancing and hygiene policies, combined with continued assistance and co-operation from the authorities, should minimise it."

Like-for-like sales in the 11 weeks since July 26 were 15pc below last year, with strong sales during August followed by a marked slowdown since tighter restrictions on the hospitality industry came into force, including the introduction of a 10pm curfew.

The 10pm curfew and introduction of "table service only" have been particularly damaging for trade, the firm said.

As a result, management said: "The outlook for pubs over the remainder of the current financial year is even more unpredictable than hitherto."

Analysts at Jefferies said: "[Wetherspoon's] strong position within the UK pub sector – consumer traction and well-located, now largely freehold estate – should allow [Wetherspoon] to return to former profitability fast. However, the national narrative around lockdowns highlights short-term uncertainty."