TV Jamie's appeal for drinks tax could close businesses
The Northern Ireland-raised chairman of pubs giant, Wetherspoon, has criticised TV chef Jamie Oliver's campaign for higher taxes on soft drinks.
Tim Martin said such a new tax would cost pubs millions of pounds at a time when their prices were already high, compared to supermarkets.
Mr Oliver has introduced a levy on sugary drinks in his restaurants and is calling on the Government to introduce a tax on fizzy drinks.
Mr Martin 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% VAT on food sales, compared to zero for supermarkets. Showboating of this kind by Jamie Oliver will close pubs."
Mr Martin, who was born in Northern Ireland and attended Campbell College in Belfast, pointed to the fact that Pepsi is now the company's biggest selling draught product, with 580,000 drinks served in the past seven days, of which 197,000 were Diet Pepsi.
In the same period, Wetherspoon's 950 pubs served almost one million sugar-free coffees and teas.
He added: "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. Customers already pay a lot for soft drinks when they go out and we don't need another 'Big Brother' tax."
It's not the first time that Tim Martin has waded into controversy. Last month, he said ongoing political instability in Northern Ireland could put off new businesses.
Wetherspoon is in the process of opening two new bars in Belfast. The company currently operates nine across Northern Ireland.
The two new bars will be at a former JJB Sports store on Royal Avenue, and a former Methodist church close to Queen's University.
Tim Martin has also raised concerns over the introduction of the National Living Wage.
But he said the proposed increase in pay - which will see over-25s paid at least £7.20 an hour - won't affect its expansion in Belfast.
"It will push up the price of a pint or a meal in the pub, relative to supermarkets, which is a bad thing.
"Labour-intensive businesses like pubs or restaurants, or others, are very important for the economy.
"My own view is that the major impact will be in small towns and less affluent areas," he said.