Future of Work

The chairman of JD Wetherspoon is calling for pubs to reopen at the same time as non-essential shops. Tim Martin warned that the pub industry was “on its knees” and needed to reopen to save jobs.

He said pubs made a massive contribution to the economy, with the Wetherspoons chain paying about £10 of tax for every pound of profit it made. His call comes after the boss of rival pub chain Young’s said pubs should be reopened by April.

Pubs, bars and restaurants across most of the UK are currently closed, although they can offer takeaway food and drink within certain restrictions. Scientists have also said that talk of reopening them is premature.

Mr Martin suggested that various lockdown measures imposed since March last year could, however, spell a “disaster for public finances”. In the financial year to July 2019, before the coronavirus crisis started, JD Wetherspoon, its customers and employees generated £764m of taxes, he said.

“The amount of tax paid by Wetherspoon is replicated, according to the size of the company, throughout the pub industry, and shows just how important pubs are to the economy,” he said. He also argued that pubs and restaurants were “Covid-secure environments”, having invested in safety measures such as plastic screens in front of tills, table service-only and floor markings to illustrate one-way systems around pub venues.

He added: “Surely it is possible for the hospitality industry to reopen at the same time as non-essential shops, now that a vaccine exists, on the basis of the social distancing and hygiene regulations.” On Sunday, the chief executive of the Young’s pub chain, Patrick Dardis, accused the prime minister of a “lack of respect” for the sector and of basing the decision to close pubs on “unproven” science – a claim that experts dispute.

He said major pub chief executives, including him, were leaving an industry forum set up by small business minister Paul Scully. He declined to name the executives. He added that the industry needed a “road map” to reopening with social distancing restrictions in place, but that these should only be in place for a few months.

Questioning the science behind the current restrictions on pubs, he said: “We are shocked and appalled that the government is basing its decisions to keep the great British pub closed on unproven and unfounded statistics.”

But Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, said talk of reopening pubs by April was premature. “What the executives of pubs need to know is that failure to get it right equals back to square one. And back to square one equals much more pain economically, much more hardship.”

He added: “Whichever way you want to cut it, you drink alcohol to relax and have a bonhomie with your friends.

“One of the consequences of relaxing is that you drop your guard,” he said. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said he is “optimistic” he will be able to set out plans on 22 February for a “cautious” easing of England’s lockdown – despite scientists’ warnings against measures being rolled back too quickly.

On Saturday, he said “huge progress” had been made with the rollout of vaccines, with ministers hopeful that schools can reopen from 8 March. After this, the government would look to open non-essential shops, followed by the hospitality sector, he said.

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