Whitbread and S&N to create pub jobs bonanza

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TWO OF the country's biggest leisure companies are planning to create a jobs bonanza in the pub and restaurant industry. Whitbread and Scottish & Newcastle yesterday announced plans to employ another 10,000 people throughout the country over the next 12 months.

Whitbread is planning to create 5,000 new positions as part of the rapid expansion of its Brewers Fayre and Hogshead pubs, restaurant chains such as Cafe Rouge, Bella Pasta and TGI Fridays and its Costa Coffee cafes. The group is also opening three new Marriott Hotels, at County Hall in London, in Manchester and at Heathrow, as well as 25 Travel Inn budget hotels as part of a total investment programme of more than pounds 460m.

However Whitbread's plans were overshadowed by a warning that Easter trading had been hit by the floods and storms which caused turmoil over the holiday weekend. The bad news caused its shares to fall 30p to 1060p yesterday despite the group announcing a 12 per cent rise in underlying profits to pounds 355m.

David Thomas, Whitbread's chief executive, was confident the group could continue its record of double-digit growth. "Given the terrible weather at Easter, which is an important time for us, the drop in trading was disappointing but understandable. However, I cannot see any slowdown in consumer demand in any of the sectors in which we operate," he said yesterday.

Whitbread is understood to have received offers for its brewing and tenanted pub estate but has decided against selling the businesses.

It also ruled out the sale of Thresher, its off-licence business which has been hit by fierce competition from supermarkets and foreign beer imports.

Whitbread is continuing to look at taking brands such as Travel Inn and its David Lloyd leisure clubs to Continental Europe, considering sites in the Benelux countries and Germany. The group has also keen to concentrate on developing outdoor leisure businesses such as tennis and golf.

Whitbread's beer profits rose 12 per cent to pounds 44.6m, thanks to a great performance from premium lager Stella Artois, where sales increased sales by 27 per cent.

Investment column, page 26