Wetherspoon boss drinks to Olympics, calls for tax parity

Pub chain JD Wetherspoon profits are up to £72m after a summer of sport, bur boss Tim Martin says VAT rules are unfair.

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 15 Mar 2013

The Olympics, Paralympics, Euro 2012, the Diamond Jubilee (remember that?) - all these have conspired to provide a tailwind for Wetherspoon, says the 860 strong pub chain’s boss Tim Martin. Profits are up for the year to July by 8.4% to £72m as drinkers flocked to their local ‘Spoons to catch up with the Gold medal tally and sink a flagon or two of foaming ale in celebration.  

Martin - famed for his shabby clothes and turbulent mullet hairdo - also reckons that he owes Andy Murray a pint for winning gold in the tennis. Total sales rose by 12% to £1.2bn, while the firm opened 40 pubs over the year and closed just three. Debt rose by £25 to £463m, at least partly as a result of increased spending on beer gardens and kitchens.  

But despite the upbeat tone, Martin warned that growth was unlikely to continue at the same pace in the months to come. Indeed, factor in exceptionals (including a £9m write down on the value of its pub estate) and profits are down slightly on the year at £58.9m, rather than up.  But Martin’s main bugbear continues to be VAT. Pubs are increasingly reliant on food sales to keep afloat he reckons, but pay VAT at 20% on them. Supermarkets on the other hand pay no VAT on food sales.

This amounts to a tax break for supermarkets, says Martin, and ‘supermarkets don’t need tax breaks, they can look after themselves.’ He would like to see tax parity - which in practice means no VAT on pub food either. Good luck with that one Tim. Wetherspoon expects to open 25 pubs in the coming year, 10 fewer than originally planned and only slightly more than half the number it has managed in the last year.

So business is clearly still hard work in the pub game, even in Martin - a 33 year veteran of the trade - knows how to make the most of it.  

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