JD Wetherspoon has reported its first annual loss in 36 years, a result the pub chain’s chairman and founder described as “catastrophic”.The company, which owns 872 pubs in the UK, reported a £105.4m loss for the year ending in July.Tim Martin said he planned to keep pubs open following the latest round of government restrictions, even in those in tier 3 areas (the highest risk), but he criticised the new system as “confusing” and “ineffective”.
“The entire approach is doomed to failure,” Martin told ITV News. “[The government] is making a right Horlicks of it... If we keep on the course we are on we will have high unemployment not just in pubs and restaurants but across the whole country.”JD Wetherspoon currently has 4,000 of its 43,000 employees on either furlough or partial furlough.
Despite the deteriorating outlook, the company plans to retain all of them when the Job Retention Scheme ends in two weeks time.“We are hoping that we can hang on to all of our furloughed staff at end of month, perhaps on reduced hours, but we are not daft and nor are our staff,” Martin said.
“We can see enormous clouds on the horizon given the capricious nature of government policy.”Martin insists the initial restrictions that the government insisted on when pubs reopened in July were “carefully thought through” and “enjoyed the broad support” of the industry.
“Since then,” he says, “we’ve move to emergency powers, with no consultation, run from 10 Downing Street."Martin is a libertarian who thinks the Covid-19 can be fought with social-distancing, hand-washing and common sense.
He believes that curfews, face masks, circuit-breakers and the ban on mixed households causes significant economic damage with little benefit to public health.
Nor is he persuaded that there is a link between pubs and the recent spike in infections.
“You can catch the virus in a pub,” Martin says, “but pubs are not centres of transmission”. New survey data from Public Health England shows that, last week (beginning October 5), 73,561 people who reported for contact tracing tested positive for coronavirus.
Just over 12,000 of those told NHS Test and Trace that they had eaten out shortly before testing positive.
The government would argue that the survey is a pretty good indication that infection may be occurring in restaurants, bars and pubs but Martin is unconvinced.“I think Public Health England has misinterpreted the figures. I think people are naming the most common things that everyone in the country does,” he said.“Our information is that there has been almost no outbreaks in pubs,” he added.
"If you are social distancing and you are in a pub and you have Covid-19 and I haven’t, I shouldn’t get it from you if I follow the hygiene and social distancing rules.”
JD Wetherspoon says 429 employees have tested positive for the virus since the company’s pubs reopened (1% of the workforce) and insists that is no higher than the infection rate in the general population.The company says there have been 46 million customer visits to Wetherspoon’s pubs since July and that NHS Test and Trace and local health officials have yet to inform the company of a single case of the virus passing between either staff or customers.