Wetherspoon's feeling tax pain

The size of the tax burden imposed on Britain's pubs was laid bare yesterday in half-year results from JD Wetherspoon.

Wetherspoons, regarded as one of the best-run operators, paid tax of £273.5m in the six months to January, a rise of £23m that sees various levies such as alcohol duty and corporation tax take nearly 44 per cent of sales.

Those sales are up 10 per cent to £626m, but profits slipped a bit to £35m due to rising costs.

Wetherspoons and others in the industry say the lower tax paid by supermarkets is killing pubs. Its chairman and founder Tim Martin said: "If we were taxed on the same basis as supermarkets, we would have paid £40.7m less, since supermarkets pay virtually no VAT in respect of food sales."

Mr Martin says this tax differential is particularly harsh in poorer areas. "It can be ignored in Chelsea, but not in Wolverhampton," he said.

The group, which employs around 30,000 staff, ended the half-year period with 865 pubs and expects to open 30 pubs over this financial year. In the six weeks to March 10, like-for-like sales growth rose to 7.3 per cent.