JD Wetherspoon plunged to a £105 million loss for the year, as outspoken chairman Tim Martin launched a scathing attack on government policy, blasting the use of masks and the 10pm curfew.
The entrepreneur behind the popular pub chain is battling to keep the 870 bars alive – and 40,000 staff employed.
In the year to July sales plunged 30% to £1.26 billion and the divided to shareholders – which includes 10,000 of the staff – went from 12p a share to zero.
Last year, ‘Spoons made a profit of £102 million on sales of £1.8 billion.
With London heading into “tier 2” and local lockdowns growing, Martin said: “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.”
He added: “For example, a requirement for table service was introduced – which is expensive to implement and undermines the essential nature of pubs for many people – pubs have now become like restaurants. Customers can approach the till in a shop, but not in a pub – which is, in no sense, ‘scientific’.”
In a broadside that referenced Sir Isaac Newton and Warren Buffett, among others, Martin said government policy is “complete cobblers”.
Martin cited Buffett’s concern that governments and businesses tend to copy each other’s strategy – an “institutional imperative” that “wilts rationality”.
“Since 100 governments adopted a lockdown strategy, it was very difficult for any government to adopt a different course,” said Martin.
“The lockdown was far longer than was necessary to achieve its stated objective of ‘flattening the curve’ so as to assist the health service.”
On face masks he said: “Face-coverings, for which the health benefits are debatable, need not be worn while seated, yet must be worn to go to visit the bathroom – another capricious regulation.”
Sales in the first 11 weeks of the financial year are down 15%.
The future for pubs, he warned, “is even more unpredictable than hitherto”.
Martin accused the government of acting on a “frantic basis” as if it were in permanent election mode.
He told the Standard: “In the last week Sweden had 16 fatalities, we had 600. Adjusted for population we are doing six times worse than Sweden. The solution is to buy a Volvo, listen to Abba. Go Swedish.”