Wetherspoon boss cheered by news 1,200 students will live near Belfast pub
JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has welcomed the addition of 1,200 new student beds in Belfast close to his upcoming city centre pub.
But the pub chain chairman, who was raised in Northern Ireland, said the introduction of a new National Living Wage risks making business here "uncompetitive".
Mr Martin said he was confident work would soon start on his two new Belfast pubs, although it had been a "slow process".
He was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph as the company issued another warning over its profit forecast, hit by rising staff costs.
It saw shares tumble by 9% after Mr Martin said full-year profits were now set to come in at the lower end of City expectations despite a rise in trade over the festive season.
Wetherspoon said staff costs were likely to knock around 1.1% off its operating margin for the six months to January 24.
"Sales are good, and there is a long trend of good sales. There's been a blip in profits because of substantial investment in wages," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Customers are happy, because their prices are low. Staff are happy because of the increased wages." But he once again blasted the introduction of a National Living Wage in April. That will bring the new minimum wage for over-25s to £7.20 an hour.
"There's a danger in social legislation which is well-intentioned, but it ends up making some businesses uncompetitive in areas such as Northern Ireland," he said. "On the surface, it's a plus, but only if people still generate jobs."
JD Wetherspoon is opening two new bars in Belfast, one at a former JJB Sports store on Royal Avenue, the other at a former Methodist church close to Queen's University.
"I think it's a slow process, but we are making progress," Mr Martin said. "We hope to be able to start work before too long."
And he said the green light for two new student accommodation buildings at York Street and Great Patrick Street close to his new city centre pub - adding 1,200 rooms - was "fantastic news".
"That's fantastic news for the wealth of the city centre, never mind us. The accommodation for the city centre is good news for all businesses, and it's something you weren't getting here 30 or 40 years ago."
JD Wetherspoon employs nearly 35,000 people across close to 1,000 pubs, including Lloyds No 1 bars in Great Britain.
Yesterday's profit alert comes after Wetherspoon warned in November that staff costs could see annual profits drop slightly on the previous year.
But Wetherspoon said it saw improved trading in its Christmas quarter, with like-for-like sales up 3.3% in the 12 weeks to January 17.
So far in the first 25 weeks of its half-year, sales in established pubs are up 2.8%.
Greg Johnson, analyst at Shore Capital, said the decline was "worse than our expectations".
New minimum wage which Tim Martin fears could harm businesses