Binge drinking is the state's fault, says Wetherspoons

Cheap booze purveyor JD Wetherspoon blames the Government for teenage binge-drinking (among other things)...

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Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

JD Wetherspoon's founder and chairman Tim Martin laid into the Government today for saddling the industry with an ‘unsustainable' tax burden, and creating a ‘vodka-drinking culture' by driving young people out of the pubs and into the street. Martin was reporting a relatively string set of half-year results today: total sales were up 6.5% to £469m, with profits inching up 2% to £30.8m. At a time when the pub industry is in turmoil, with dozens of pubs closing every week, this counts as a pretty decent showing - but Martin clearly thinks this is despite the Government, not because of it. He's never going to get a knighthood this way...

On the face of it, it might seem a bit rich that Wetherspoon's is trying to blame someone else for binge-drinking. After all, it tends to sell cheaper drinks than almost anywhere outside student union bars - even offering a pint of beer for 99p recently - and tends to be frequented by a ‘youthful' crowd, shall we say. Anyone who's seen a gang of teenagers ordering a cheap round of Aftershocks in their local Wetherspoons might argue that it's not entirely blameless for the binge-drinking problem.  However, Martin argues that Government legislation - which enforces draconian punishments on pubs that admit underage drinkers - is actually just making the social problem worse, because 16-18 year olds end up drinking away from the ‘civilising' influence of adults.

And that's not his only beef with the Government. He also argued today that ‘opportunistic tax grabs' and employee-friendly legislation were killing an industry that was already in decline. ‘The government seems not to understand the economic impact of new taxes and legislation and continues to impose new burdens at a huge rate,' he said. ‘Britain has now become a highly taxed economy, with high and increasing employment costs'. The Aftershocks will be flowing at Wetherspoon HQ tonight then...

However, the good news for his shareholders is that Wetherspoon seems to be riding out the storm better than most. Sales were up 1.9% on a like-for-like basis, a trend that has continued this year (thanks partly to the success of its new breakfast offering), and after cancelling its dividend, the group has plenty of cash in the bank to pay down its debts. It also said today that it would use its war-chest to pick up new pubs on the cheap, just like it did in the last recession. So it's no wonder its share price is up 14% this morning. The Aftershocks will be flowing at Wetherspoon HQ tonight then...

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