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Wetherspoon's chief bemoans cost of drinks licence in Northern Ireland

By Rachel Martin

The pub and restaurant industry in Northern Ireland could be damaged by this week's Budget, an entrepreneur from Northern Ireland has said.

Tim Martin - chairman of pub chain JD Wetherspoon - ripped into Chancellor Philip Hammond, accusing him of delivering a "Budget for dinner parties" rather than pub-goers.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Martin also highlighted the crippling cost of drinks licences in the region.

He said it could put off entrepreneurs from starting up new businesses in Northern Ireland.

Mr Martin said the cost of licenses continued to hold back some of the region's biggest towns and cities.

He said: "You have to pay an astronomical amount for a drinks licence here, whereas in Dublin and London they have removed most of the restrictions and you get a quicker response to changing trends in the industry. In London and Dublin at the moment there's a lot of craft beer bars set up by small entrepreneurs, but here a licence could set you back anywhere from £100,000 to £1million.

"This absolute restriction on the number of licences is unhelpful to the industry.

"You're essentially always waiting for an old licence to come up and I think it holds cities back - not just Belfast, but Derry and Omagh, too.

"I think pubs and restaurants are an important part of the economy both north and south of the border and it's very important they're regenerated."

Speaking about the Budget, Mr Martin calculated the firm would face nearly £30m of extra charges over the next five years, including a business rates bill of £7m, a £2m apprenticeship levy charge and a £4m hit from the sugar tax.

While he could not break the figures down to how they could affect his four branches in Northern Ireland, he said the Budget was "not helpful" to the industry and warned that it put supermarkets at an advantage to the hospitality trade.

Wetherspoon is planning to open another two pubs in Belfast on Royal Avenue and University Road. Last year it sold five bars to the Northern Ireland-based Granny Annie's Group.

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