Wetherspoon talks of June reopening despite no lockdown exit plan

Controversial pub group founder Tim Martin was vocal opponent of pandemic measures

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin with Boris Johnson, then the Conservative leadership candidate, in July 2019. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin with Boris Johnson, then the Conservative leadership candidate, in July 2019. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

 

British pub operator JD Wetherspoon, which has seven pubs in the Republic and more than 900 in the United Kingdom, said on Wednesday it is “starting to plan for a reopening” of its pubs and hotels “in or around June”.

The trading statement from Wetherspoons separately states that the company’s current assumptions are that its premises will stay shut until “late June”.

Founder and chairman Tim Martin was an opponent of restrictions designed to curb the spread of Covid-19, describing the closure of pubs in March as “over the top”, while he subsequently attracted ire for his treatment of workers.

His desired return to business will not be possible until governments give permission for pubs to reopen as part of phased exits from the lockdown.

In the Republic, this is not expected to happen before the end of June, although no exit plan has yet been published by the Government.

Industry group Drinks Ireland earlier called for a reopening “road map” to be provided to the hospitality sector amid fears of widespread job losses and permanent closures.

Share placing

JD Wetherspoon also said it would place up to 15.7 million shares with investors at 900 pence apiece. That compares with the stock’s closing price of 957.5 pence earlier in the day.

It said about 43,000 employees, accounting for more than 99 per cent of its workforce, had been furloughed and there had been no job losses to date, although that would remain under review.

“We’ve had to take significant action to reduce costs, decisions which have not been taken lightly,” said Mr Martin, who along with chief executive John Hutson will take a 50 per cent salary cut.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, JD Wetherspoon had – like most pub and restaurant chains – been battling increased costs due to a mandatory minimum wage hike, higher property prices and power bills. – Reuters