Punch Taverns set to cut £2bn debt

The British pub industry is still in decline, the boss of the 4,500-strong Punch Taverns chain declared yesterday.

Roger Whiteside said drinking out is falling at a constant rate of 3.5 per cent a year, and while pubs with great food can grow those reliant mainly on selling drink face an uncertain future.

That is largely why he plans for Punch to restructure its financing and reduce the burden of its £2bn debt, largely made up of two securitisations of £1.5bn and £900m, the legacy of the acquisition of Allied Domecq's pub estate in 1999. It has started discussions with its largest shareholders, and the next stage is negotiations with bondholders.

Mr Whiteside said Punch has a future based around 3,000 core pubs, with 1,500 to be sold over the next five years. For the year ended in mid-August revenues fell 6 per cent to £492m and pre-tax profits fell 16 per cent to £64m.