JD Wetherspoon founder calls time on EU and demands ‘level tax playing field’

File photo dated 20/1/09 of a JD Wetherspoon pub in central London. Picture: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

File photo dated 20/1/09 of a JD Wetherspoon pub in central London. Picture: Tim Ireland/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Pub giant JD Wetherspoon said staff pay rises ahead of the national living wage knocked profits, as the chain's founder came out in favour of leaving the European Union.

The firm, which runs 954 pubs, said pre-tax-profits slipped 3.9pc to £36m in the 26 weeks to January 24 compared to a year ago, after two recent pay increases.

It said it gave its employees a pay increase in October 2014 and last July, amounting to a 13pc overall wage rise. The business employs 37,000 staff.

The move comes ahead of the Government's introduction of the national living wage next month, which will lift minimum hourly pay to £7.20 for over 25s, from its current level of £6.50, and to at least £9 an hour by 2020.

The pub chain said like-for-like sales in the period were 2.9pc, while sales at established pubs in the six weeks to March 6 lifted to 3.7pc.

Founder and chairmen Tim Martin said: 'Sales comparisons in the second half of the financial year will be slightly more favourable, although further wage increases are due in April.

'The pub and restaurant market is highly competitive, but we are aiming for a reasonable outcome for the financial year.'

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Mr Martin also cautioned Chancellor George Osborne against raising taxes in the pub industry ahead of next week's Budget.

The array of taxes JD Wetherspoon pays includes VAT, alcohol duty, corporation tax, gaming machine duty, landfill tax and a climate change levy.

Mr Martin said: 'There is a growing realisation among politicians, the media and the public that pubs are overtaxed and that a level tax playing field will create more jobs and taxes for the country.'

The founder of the pub group also came out in favour of Brexit.

He said: 'All major powers should be permanently retained by national parliaments with a free vote for everyone, a free press, free courts, freedom of speech and religion, and with the church playing a symbolic role only in the constitution.'

The pub boss said it would soon be time for everyone in the UK to come to a decision on this matter.

Mr Martin added: 'As those Eurovision songsters Bucks Fizz memorably put it, it's time for making your mind up.'