Tim Martin, founder chairman of pubs giant JD Wetherspoon, hit out yesterday at television celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s campaign for higher taxes on soft drinks.
Oliver has introduced a 10p tax on fizzy or sugary drinks in his restaurants, and has called on the UK government to introduce a corresponding countrywide tax on such drinks to combat a growth in obesity.
However, Martin countered that such a tax would cost the diminishing pubs industry millions of pounds at a time when their prices were “already very high compared to supermarkets”.
The boss of Wetherspoon, whose 950‑strong pub estate includes about 75 outlets in Scotland, said: “Jamie Oliver runs restaurants which cater to an affluent clientele. He is either courting the favour of the elite or is badly out of touch with the majority of people.
“I believe that he should campaign for tax equality for pubs, restaurants and supermarkets, since pubs and restaurants pay 20 per cent VAT on food sales, compared to zero for supermarkets. Showboating of this kind by Jamie Oliver will close pubs.”
Martin, whose Scottish pubs include The Alexander Graham Bell in Edinburgh and The Corn Exchange in Arbroath, cited Pepsi, which is now Wetherspoon’s biggest selling draught product with 580,000 drinks served in the past seven days. Of these, 197,000 were Diet Pepsi.
In the same period Wetherspoon’s 950 pubs served almost one million sugar-free coffees and teas. “Sales of non-sugar drinks in the non-alcoholic category are increasing at a rapid rate and are in the great majority, when you take into account coffee and tea,” Martin added.
“Customers already pay a lot for soft drinks when they go out and we don’t need another ‘big brother’ tax.”
Martin’s broadside comes in the wake of about one in six pubs closing in the UK under economic pressures since 2004.
• Whitbread, owner of the Costa Coffee and Premier Inn hotels chains, unveiled a near‑14 per cent rise in interim profits to £291.3 million, but warned it will face up to an extra £20m a year in staff costs from the new national living wage. It has already increased pay in Costa Coffee 10 per cent this month to take it above that threshold.