UK pubs announce heavy losses and job cuts as Covid curbs bite

The pub companies Mitchells & Butlers and Fuller, Smith & Turner have reported heavy losses and said they had axed about 1,700 jobs, highlighting the impact of continued coronavirus restrictions on Britain’s hospitality sector.

Mitchells & Butlers, which operates bar, pub and restaurant brands including All Bar One, O’Neills, Harvester and Toby Carvery, slumped to a £123m loss in the year to the end of September, down from a £177m profit a year earlier.

The group said it had made 1,300 people redundant since the end of its financial year, despite receiving government support through the furlough scheme and the business rates holiday.

The firm, which operates about 1,700 venues across the UK, believes it is well placed to recover once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. However, given the ongoing disruption to trading, it noted a “material uncertainty” about its ability to continue as a going concern and the valuation of its property portfolio.

That view was echoed by Fullers, which fell to a £22.2m pre-tax loss for the six months to the end of September, compared with a £17.9m profit a year earlier. The group said it had made 350 people redundant.

England Covid tiers graphic

Fullers has shed 20% of its workforce, just under 1,000 roles, since March.

The pub operator, which sold its beer business to the Japanese group Asahi in 2019, said trading conditions meant it would not be paying a dividend to its investors.

The chairman, Michael Turner, said the government had been “supportive and destructive in almost equal measure” during the pandemic.

He said the company was grateful for the extension of the furlough scheme but urged the chancellor to extend support measures, including the business rates holiday and temporary reduction in VAT on goods and services, for hospitality and leisure firms.

Hospitality is one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, with Fullers pubs and hotels closed for more than half of the six-month trading period. Several pub operators including JD Wetherspoon have announced job cuts and said they could not rule out further redundancies.

When England’s national lockdown eases on 2 December, the majority of the country will enter the two toughest tiers, which place significant restrictions on hospitality.

The Fullers chief executive, Simon Emeny, said the imminent rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine meant “a return to normality is in sight”, however he warned business would be difficult in the interim.

“We are optimistic about the future in the medium term and beyond but there is no doubt that this will be a tough winter and a very different looking Christmas,” he said.