Marston’s won’t reopen pubs until March ‘at the earliest’

The boss of brewer and pubs group Marston’s has called for an extension of the business rates holiday and a VAT cut to help the sector stay afloat.

Chief executive Ralph Findlay said he does not expect pubs to be able to reopen until March ‘at the earliest’ and asked the Government for help.

His call comes as the group unveiled a massive Covid hit to revenues, which were just £54million during the three months to 2 January, compared to sales of £1.17billion in 2019.

Covid closures: Chief executive Ralph Findlay said he does not expect pubs to be able to reopen until March ‘at the earliest’

Like his rivals, Marston’s – which has around 1,400 pubs across the country – has been forced to close down all its pubs again due to the new lockdown, with 97 per cent of staff currently on furlough.

Findlay said the pubs sector remained in a ‘very difficult position’ and urged the Government to extend the business rates holiday beyond its current end date in April.

He also pushed for a VAT cut for when pubs reopen their doors, which is not expected to happen until March.

‘We do not have certainty about the timing of reopening, but in view of comments from the Prime Minister about the potential for lifting restrictions as the vaccination programme progresses we anticipate that pubs will be closed for trading until March at the earliest, and expect some of the previous restrictions to remain on reopening,’ the company said.

The group, which last month struck a deal to operate all 156 pubs run by Wales’ biggest brewer and pub company Brains, estimates to burn through between £3million to £4million of cash per week in full lockdown.

But despite the disruption, Findlay said the group had ‘significantly strengthened’ its balance sheet thanks to the recent joint venture with Carlsberg and continued support from its lenders.

It will use £233million collected from the Carlsberg UK joint venture to reduce debts and will also apply for the recently-announced government grants of up to £9,000 per property.

Shares rose almost 8 per cent to 80.35p in afternoon trading on Friday.

Marston’s said it will use £233m collected from the Carlsberg joint venture to reduce debts

Findlay said: ‘The pub sector has been closed for much of the last nine months and remains in a very difficult position.

‘Pubs are viable businesses which are part of the social fabric of Britain and which make a major contribution to the economy and the communities in which they serve.

‘It is vital that they not only survive the short-term crisis but are supported in order to recover and flourish.

‘Extending the business rates holiday and VAT cut for the rest of this year is a minimum requirement.’