Wetherspoons boss says pubs are 'on their knees' and need to reopen

15 February 2021, 16:23

Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has called on the government to reopen pubs
Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has called on the government to reopen pubs. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, has called on the government to reopen pubs at the same time as non-essential retail "to save jobs".

Mr Martin said that pubs are "on their knees" and need to be reopen to help the economy.

He said the industry makes a massive contribution to the economy and is crucial to help the UK recover from the coronavirus crisis - with Wetherspoons paying "about £10 of tax for every pound of profit made".

His comments come as the boss of Young's pubs said venues should be reopened by April - and accused the prime minister of a "lack of respect" for the sector.

Currently in the UK, pubs, bars and restaurants are closed to indoor customers, although they can offer takeaways in some cases.

Mr Martin argued that pubs and restaurants should reopen as they are "Covid-secure environments", and have invested in safety measures.

"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," he said.

Mr Martin also suggested that various lockdown measures imposed on pubs for almost a year now "could spell a disaster" for the 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.

However, scientists has said that talking about pubs reopening in April is "premature" and pub bosses need to realise there is a danger of going "back to square one".

Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, said: "It's premature because we don't know what the state of cases will be in the country at that point in time.

"It may be that the cases are low and that we have regained control because we are now managing to keep the case numbers down and our immunisation levels have been sufficiently high to have a majority of the vulnerable population immunised and therefore protected," he said, highlighting the "criteria" required.

Dr Pankhania, who has widespread experience of advising on national communicable disease control action plans at national and international level, added: "What the executives of pubs etc etc 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.

"It is better to get it right than to prematurely bow to pressure and open up when you're not ready to open up," he said.

It comes as Boris Johnson said the Government will provide target dates for sectors to reopen "if we possibly can" when he reveals his road map for releasing lockdown next week.

Speaking to broadcasters in Orpington, the Prime Minister said: "If we possibly can, we will be setting out dates.

"And just to help people think about what we're trying to do on February 22, remember what we did around about this time last year, or a little bit later - we set out a road map going forward into the summer looking a little bit beyond, that's what we're going to be trying to do.

The Prime Minister will this week begin considering how restrictions in England may be eased ahead of a statement on February 22 setting out his "road-map" out of lockdown.

Ministers are said to be discussing plans to allow some shops to reopen, families to meet again and self-catering staycations to be allowed if Covid-19 infection rates continue to fall.

Reports suggest that restrictions on outdoor exercise and socialising could be eased as early as next month.

It is thought that this will be followed by the reopening of non-essential shops with pubs and restaurants being allowed to serve people outdoors by April. 

Indoor hospitality would not return until at least May, with the possibility of delay until summer, reports suggest.