Wetherspoons drowns its sorrows as profits are hit by taxes - and chairman voices support for Brexit

 
Emma Haslett
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Wetherspoons has been hit by levies on late-night opening and slot machines (Source: Getty)

Cheap it may be, but cheerful Wetherspoons is not - after it said profits in the six months to the end of January were hit by the "continuing tax disparity" between supermarkets and pubs, as chairman Tim Martin came out in favour of Brexit.

The figures

Pre-tax profits fell 2.2 per cent to £36.6m, while operating profit before exceptional items fell 10.8 per cent to £49.4m.

But revenues rose 6.2 per cent to £790.3m, and like-for-like sales rose 2.9 per cent.

The company added that things had gone a little better since the end of the period - in the six weeks to 6 March, like-for-like sales increased 3.7 per cent, with total sales increasing 5.7 per cent.

The company said it was maintaining its dividend at 4p.

Why it's interesting

The government has been on a health kick in recent years, and pubs have been a casualty.

Today Wetherspoons warned higher taxes on pubs means they can't compete with supermarkets - with the main disparity coming in the form of 20 per cent VAT, which supermarkets don't pay, and 15p per pint in business rates. Supermarkets only pay 1.5-2p per pint.

But that's not all: in recent years pubs have been hit by a "late-night levy" and additional charges on fruit and slot machines, and Wetherspoons has had enough.

Coming ahead of the chancellor's Budget next Wednesday, it may serve as a warning that chairman Tim Martin, the company's founder, came out in favour of Brexit.

"A wide debate is taking place as to whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. I have written an article on the subject, favouring withdrawal from the Union, since returning power to the national parliament will, in my view, increase the level of democracy and accountability," he said.

What Wetherspoons said

Martin said:

The tax disparity with supermarkets is unfair. Pubs create significantly more jobs and more taxes per pint or per meal than do supermarkets and it does not make social or economic sense for the UK tax régime to favour supermarkets. We acknowledge the need for companies to pay a reasonable level of taxes, but hope that legislators will make prompt progress in creating a level playing field for all businesses which sell similar products.

In short

It is a taxing time for the pub industry - and Wetherspoon has warned new levies have taken their toll.

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