JD Wetherspoon has said that it plans to reopen its pubs and hotels “in or around June” in spite of a lack of government guidance thus far on when lockdown restrictions will be lifted.
But although it gave the date in an update to the stock market, Tim Martin, the pub group’s chief executive, said it was “complete cobblers” to suggest that the company had firm plans.
“We have no insight whatsoever as to when pubs might reopen and no information from, or hotline to, the government,” he said.
Restaurants, pubs and bars are expected to be among the last allowed to reopen once the lockdown, which was put in force by the government on March 20, is lifted. Many fear that even when they are allowed to reopen, social-distancing measures will severely limit their capacity, with a knock-on effect on sales.
Mr Martin has previously come under fire for criticising the lockdown measures designed to slow the spread of the virus, claiming there had been “hardly any” transmission of the disease in pubs.
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In the week prior to the closure of pubs, Wetherspoon said that like-for-like sales had declined 4.5 per cent. Since then, it said that it had furloughed 99 per cent of its 43,000 employees using the government support scheme and that it had not made any redundancies, although this was “under review”.
The forecast of a June reopening was announced as part of the prospectus for a £141m share placement to give it enough liquidity to see it through the crisis. Its monthly cash burn with the business closed was £3m a month, the company said.
Mr Martin and Wetherspoon’s senior management said they would take part in the equity raise.
Wetherspoon’s June reopening forecast was criticised by others in the hospitality industry who feared that its announcement would put pressure on other businesses to follow suit.
“I’m disappointed to see that Wetherspoons have publicly announced the potential opening of their venues so soon. I wait to hear the exact details of the plans but I hope there will be adequate measures in place to ensure the guidelines are adhered to, whether that is through social distancing or one in one out policies,” said Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser to the mayor of Manchester, who runs The Warehouse Project club nights.
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