Fuller chairman savages new employment laws

FULLER, SMITH & Turner, the 154-year-old London brewer, yesterday launched a fierce attack on the national minimum wage and working time directive, saying the legislation was cutting into the company's profits.

Anthony Fuller, the chairman, said the laws, which amounted to "tax by the back door", had cut 4.25 per cent from his group's interim profits.

"A housewife who was just working in the evenings to save up for Christmas was happy with the old going rate of pounds 3.40 or pounds 3.50 an hour ... The purpose of the minimum wage was to help people in sweatshops, so the principle is obviously right. But it has backfired on part-time workers," Mr Fuller said. The minimum wage of pounds 3.60 an hour was introduced in April.

"Backpackers just want to earn a bit of money to go round Europe. Now when they leave after three months and a day, you have to start paying them holiday," Mr Fuller said.

His comments came as Fuller unveiled an 8.2 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to pounds 7.1m in the half year to 25 September, in line with analysts' estimates. Turnover rose by 16 per cent to pounds 71.4m.

Fuller's sales of cask beers rose by 2 per cent in the period, against a decline of 9 per cent in the broader market. Sales of the flagship brand, London Pride, were up by 3 per cent in cask and 4 per cent overall.

Mr Fuller said its strong brands meant the company was well placed to benefit from consolidation in brewing. "This will undoubtedly continue, and the net effect will be the survival of fewer stronger retail and beer brands."

Mr Fuller was cautious on prospects for the millennium holiday period, but said the 60 Fuller's wine shops would benefit from home-based celebrations. "No one really knows what will happen: will it be a damp squib or will it be fantastic?"

The interim dividend is 4.05p, up from 3.82p. The shares closed down 12.5p at 610p.