At 68, Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has no plans to call time on his career
Outspoken: Tim Martin isn’t shy about putting the world to rights
At the age of 68, many businessmen would be thinking about retirement. But not Tim Martin, the very out- spoken executive chairman of the high street pub chain stalwart JD Wetherspoon.
‘We are built to work and it suits me,’ he says over a latte at The Great Harry pub in Woolwich, south-east London.
While Martin, who founded Wetherspoons in 1979, may be an enthusiastic member of the workforce, official figures show an increasing number of Britons are stepping away from employment before they hit the State Pension age of 66.
Some politicians and economists are blaming this trend for labour shortages and say it is holding back the economy.
Last Thursday, Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride went so far as to say income tax could be cut by 2p if those who left jobs during the pandemic – many of them older workers – returned to work.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Martin doesn’t mince his words on the subject, which he says is putting ‘quite a lot of pressure’ on his FTSE 250 pub chain.
‘I think we should get the b*****ds back to work,’ he says. ‘I think me and Warren Buffett [the legendary US fund manager who is still working at 92] should launch a campaign to say life is sweeter if you go out to work when everyone else is retired.’
He acknowledges that although the point at which people decide to stop working is a personal choice, employers have a significant influence, too, adding: ‘It is up to businesses to make it attractive to work – maybe part time – which is what a lot of the oldies do in our business.’
According to Martin, an older worker in Clacton-on-Sea told him recently she had no plans to retire, adding: ‘What am I going to do? Stay at home and look at the wall?’
While running a company would be enough for most people, Martin is also keeping up the campaigning streak he honed in the run-up to the EU referendum, when he was a vocal Leave supporter.
He is a fervent opponent, for example, of the decision by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to increase corporation tax from 19 per cent to 25 per cent
Martin also joined business leaders headed by hotel tycoon Sir Rocco Forte and senior Tories including Sir Iain Duncan Smith last month to call on Sunak to scrap the tourist tax on foreign visitors, who are no longer able to claim back the VAT they pay during shopping sprees in the UK.
In addition, he is a passionate campaigner for tax equality between pubs, bars and restaurants, and the supermarket chains which pay lower tax on food and drink sales.
Supermarkets can sell beer on the cheap, he argues, because they pay no VAT on food sales, but pubs and restaurants must pay 20 per cent. Martin says this has led to a slower post-pandemic recovery for the industry because it encourages people to buy alcohol in supermarkets and then drink it at home. In spite of all of this, Wetherspoons appears to be going from strength to strength.
The £1 billion group, which has 834 venues, reported last week that it is on course for a record year after a bumper Easter week followed by its ‘busiest-ever’ Saturday at the end of April.
The Coronation was a ‘noticeably quiet’ day, but that could have been because the rainy weather resulted in people opting to stay at home.
This buoyancy represents a change of tune after Martin said in January that expectations for a boom in the pub industry had not materialised and the recovery in sales had been sluggish.
He opened his first Wetherspoons pub in north London’s Muswell Hill 43 years ago – famously naming it after the character JD Hogg in the US TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, and a teacher called Wetherspoon who told him he would never amount to anything.
When Martin launched the company, Margaret Thatcher had been residing at Number 10 for around six months.
Britain’s first female Prime Minister had launched a radical programme of tax cuts and deregulation as part of a mission to revive business after years of industrial strife and economic decline under a Labour government. As a result it was an extremely exciting time for entrepreneurs. Britain’s pro-business agenda continued through John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s premierships, and Wetherspoons quickly grew into one of the country’s largest pub groups.
But Martin, who is one of Britain’s biggest taxpayers, is pessimistic about today’s politicians. ‘We have a Government and political class with relatively little experience of business,’ he says. ‘From the 1970s, not just the Conservative government, but also Labour, genuinely realised that enterprise is the key to future success.’
He says things are different nowadays, adding: ‘You don’t much hear people saying we need to encourage business.’
Martin is no fan of Sunak and says he is ‘not setting the world alight’ and ‘could be friendlier to business’.
He has decided to ‘keep neutral’ on the Labour Party, which many expect to win the next general election. ‘I am sure Keir Starmer is one of the nicest people I have never met,’ he says, then adds that he ‘can’t see’ the pair going on the campaign trail together.
Wetherspoons was one of the most recognisable names in British business before the EU referendum in 2016. Martin went on to grab headline after headline for his criticism of the Remain campaign and for his decision to print pro-Leave rants on beermats. Despite the Leave camp winning, he has not been satisfied by the policies that have followed.
In particular, he takes aim at former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with whom he pulled pints during the run-up to the referendum.
‘I think a lot of the economic decisions that have been taken by the Government since the referendum have been awful,’ he says. ‘None more so than when Boris was in charge. He would not be running the finance department at Wetherspoons.’
But Martin is still a believer in the UK’s decision to leave the EU, highlighting historically low unemployment and the London Stock Exchange hitting record highs. He also insists that Brexit has ‘increased the level of democracy in the UK’.
He said: ‘By far the most potent economic force in world history is democracy.
‘If you look at the 50 most economically successful countries in the world, apart from a few oil states, they are all democracies. And if you look at the freest states they are all democracies.
‘So you have a mixture of freedom and democracy, and what Brexit did is increase the level of democracy in the UK.
‘That doesn’t guarantee nirvana, but it is a precondition to future economic success.’
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.