In a trading statement issued today, Wetherspoon pointed out the public anger at the “hypocrisy” of people being prevented from seeing friends and family while the rules were not followed in Downing Street. Wetherspoon added that it also highlighted the ramifications for pub closures suggesting there would have been “a number of advantages for the nation” if attendees had been able to visit a pub rather than partying at No 10. The firm argued: “Central London pubs employ experienced staff, including highly trained managers, who would have easily dealt with the high jinks alleged to have occurred at No 10. CCTV is in operation in Central London pubs, so subsequent enquiries as to events are facilitated by the ready availability of evidence.
“In 2020, before vaccinations were available, Covid controls in pubs were superior to private parties, with screens, sanitisers, optimal seating layouts and so on.”
Wetherspoon adds that in the second half of 2020, when pubs were allowed to reopen, it registered over 50 million customer visits with no outbreaks of Covid among customers during this time.
It also pointed to evidence that infection rates were driven more by social interactions such as private household gatherings where people were less vigilant compared to hospitality venues with stricter measures in place.
As well as public health implications Wetherspoon argued the delay in re-opening pubs has taken a major toll on public finances.
Wetherspoon says its staff and customers normally pay around £15million in tax a week meaning the Treasury would have lost large amounts, with venues not opening for a further six weeks after the Downing Street party.
Another target in Wetherspoon’s statement is VAT with the firm taking aim at plans to return the tax to 20 percent at a time it says “pubs are on their knees.”
Wetherspoon has long complained about the discrepancy between VAT applied to pubs but not to sales in supermarkets which it views as unfair.
Describing the situation as “crazy” Wetherspoon said: “If you hold a garden party at No. 10, or Chequers for example, and buy the food from Waitrose, employing staff to prepare and serve it, no VAT is payable.
“However, fish and chips at your nearest pub will have 20 percent VAT added to the bill.”
Supermarkets, it argues, have been reporting record profits with Wetherspoon seeing now as an opportunity to rebalance the tax system.
As well as hitting out at the Government Wetherspoon has also taken the opportunity to criticise US fund manager Blackrock who are understood to own around 3.51 percent of Wetherspoon shares.
Blackrock has voted against all Wetherspoon’s non-executive directors over alleged shortfalls in corporate governance.
Wetherspoon says it has fully complied with the “comply or explain” provisions of the corporate governance code and believes Blackrock has not taken account of its explanations.
The firm also says Blackrock gave no advance indication of their voting intentions and at the time of the vote had never met anyone from Wetherspoon.
It further claimed Blackrock had itself infringed UK corporate governance guidelines which require non-executive directors to have a nine-year maximum tenure, although this is not the same in the US.
Wetherspoon’s colourful trading update comes as the company reports falling sales, exacerbated by the Plan B restrictions brought in over Omicron in December.
In the 12 weeks to 16th January 2022 it says total sales fell by 16.6 percent.
Chairman Tim Martin said: “The uncertainty created by the introduction of plan B COVID-19 measures makes predictions for sales and profits hazardous.
“The company will be loss-making in the first half of the financial year, but hopes that, with the ending of restrictions, improved customer confidence and better weather, it will have a much stronger performance in the second half.”