In the 12 months to July 25 Tim Martin’s company sunk to a pre-tax loss of £154.7 million, a staggering drop from £34.1 million the previous year. JD Wetherspoon has only seen losses in three of its 37 years in business – in 1984, 2020 and 2021 – but last year was by far its worst with sales down from £1.26 billion to £772.6 million.
Founder and chairman Tim Martin said he remained hopeful for the future and customers were starting to return since lockdown restrictions eased in the summer.
However, filling jobs was becoming difficult in some areas – particularly “staycation” locations in different parts of the country.
Mr Martin criticised the Government for its handling of the hospitality sector during the pandemic and claimed the use of lockdown restrictions were “a threat to civil society and democracy”.
The boss is now trying to fill vacancies in struggling areas and says the total employee numbers averaged 39,025 in the financial year, which has now increased to 42,003 – suggesting recruitment is going well.
Mr Martin said: “On average, Wetherspoon has received a reasonable number of applications for vacancies, as indicated by the increase in employee numbers, but some areas of the country, especially ‘staycation’ areas in the West Country and elsewhere, have found it hard to attract staff.
“During the pandemic, the pressure on pub managers and staff has been particularly acute, with a number of nationwide and regional pub closures and reopenings, often with very little warning, each of which resulted in different regulations.”
He went on to say that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the future, on the basis that there are no further lockdowns or restrictions.
Although pubs were entitled to Government support in furlough scheme payments, VAT holidays and local authority grants, the sector is one of the hardest hit from the pandemic after lengthy closures and rule changes.
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They are now facing difficulties with supply chain shortages amid the lack of HGV drivers.
Mr Martin did not comment on the shortages or any impact it is having on Wetherspoons, instead, he criticised the Government’s handling of the crisis.
He said: “The biggest threat to the pub industry, and also, inter alia, to restaurants, theatres, cinemas, airlines and travel companies, relates to the precedent set by the Government for the use of lockdowns and draconian restrictions, imposed under emergency powers.”