Wetherspoon boss unfazed by Scots referendum talk
JD WETHERSPOON boss Tim Martin has declared the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence holds no concern for the pub giant, as he again rounded on those politicians, economists and City institutions who had warned the Brexit vote would be damaging for the UK.
Mr Martin, whose company employs around 3,000 staff in 71 pubs north of the Border, said the independence issue remains “unresolved” because the debate in the build-up to the last referendum was dominated by “scare stories” on the economic consequences of Scotland leaving the UK.
He professed to not being suitably informed as to whether a second referendum was likely, but said the prospect of “indyref2” was not causing Wetherspoon any concern.
Mr Martin said: “It doesn’t [concern us] at all. It will have some pluses, and some minuses. How good or bad will depend on the policies of the government and the work of the Scots.”
Mr Martin was speaking as Wetherspoon reported a 3.6 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £80.6 million in the 52 weeks to July 24, on revenue up 5.4 per cent to nearly £1.6 billion.
Asked what had driven the company’s performance over the period, he said a combination of good weather, the “feelgood factor from the Olympic Games”, and Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory had helped drive sales, adding that “the English football team did better against Iceland than most people thought – they only lost 2-1!”
Mr Martin said: “I think those factors have helped. Other than that, we have upgraded the menus, staff bonuses are quite high without making anyone rich, and we have improved the range of craft beers, selling a lot more coffee and breakfasts. A lot of different things conspire to give you a competitive edge, which doesn’t necessarily last for a full year – it just depends on what everyone else does.”
Mr Martin, a vocal Brexit supporter, repeated his attack yesterday on the leading lights of the campaign to Remain in the EU.
He said figures such as former Prime Minister David Cameron, former chancellor George Osborne and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, as well as organisations such as the IMF and CBI, he had been “unable to see that the principle flaw of the EU – an absence of democracy – will almost certainly lead to further economic and political chaos”.
The publican, who formed JD Wetherspoon in the late 1970s, questioned the wisdom of those who insist the UK must retain its access to the European single market at all costs.
He said: “We are very happy to trade with the EU, as we are with America and China and Australia under World Trade Organisation rules, and without a special deal. We will do very well if we do that.
“But if the Europeans want to do a deal with us, we are very happy to do so – they are our friends and we will be completely co-operative.
“The danger is people saying we absolutely must stay in the single market. That’s not a wise plan. If you buy a house or a pint of beer in a pub… you have to have a choice.
“You can’t say to the other side you will do a deal with them at any cost. That’s what a lot of people are urging on the government – at all costs do a deal. That is unwise and it is not necessary.”
Meanwhile, Mr Martin downplayed the significance of today’s Celtic versus Rangers game for Wetherspoon outlets. Saying that football in general is “nominally neutral or mildly negative” for takings, he said no special provisions had been made to prepare staff for the match.
For many years Wetherspoon pubs did not have televisions, and even today it only has two screens in what are very large outlets. The sound is usually turned down with the commentary sub-titled when matches are shown.
“Like all pubs, these sort of events are closely monitored by the police, who are very experienced in these events,” Mr Martin said. “All you can do in a pub or restaurant company is follow their advice, and they usually give quite detailed advice.”
He added: “We hope it’s a good game and fans enjoy it. We just hope that everyone has good fun.”
Shares in JD Wetherspoon closed up 22.5p at 946.5p.
Meanwhile, Belhaven owner Greene King said the European Championships and better weather helped drive a 1.7 per cent increase in like for like sales in the first 18 weeks of its financial year.