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Mon 29th Mar 2021 - Update: Tim Martin’s vaccine passport warning, Brighton Pier Group, Ten Entertainment and Domino’s
Tim Martin warns vaccine passports would be ‘last straw’ for pubs, culture secretary says they would not be permanent: JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has said vaccine passports would be “the last straw” for struggling pubs and force bar staff into a “bitter civil liberties war” with customers. Conservative backbenchers, the hospitality industry and some scientists have raised concerns over the possible introduction of coronavirus health certificates as England’s lockdown is eased. Ministers are studying their potential use, which could see access to venues granted only if customers have been vaccinated, received negative tests, or developed antibodies through past infection. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden argued on Sunday (28 March) vaccine passports will not be introduced on a “permanent basis” but they could be a beneficial tool to restart safely in the short-term. But, writing in the Telegraph, Martin said “there is no justification for a passport system”. He added: “For many pubs, hanging on for dear life and devastated by G-force changes of direction, a complex and controversial passport scheme would be the last straw. It would inevitably put pub staff in the frontline of a bitter civil liberties war, with some customers unwilling to be vaccinated or unable to have a jab for medical reasons.” Dowden had insisted “we need to look at all options” for safely easing restrictions. But he told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: “Of course we would never look to do this on a permanent basis, it’s just whether it might be a tool in the short term.” Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said although there were “definitely prizes to be won through domestic vaccine certification”, there were “very big practical and ethical challenges” to address as well. Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, said the use of passports “certainly had to be considered for things like nightclubs, large concerts, mass gatherings” to make post-lockdown life safe.

Brighton Pier Group ‘well placed to take advantage of opportunities anticipated staycation boom will present’ as it reports first-half revenue down 53%: Brighton Pier Group, which owns and trades Brighton Palace Pier, as well as nine premium bars nationwide and eight indoor mini-golf sites, has said it is “well placed to take advantage of the anticipated opportunities the staycation boom will present” as it reported its total group revenue for the 26 weeks to 27 December 2020 was down 53%, at £8.2m. The company posted a half-year pre-tax loss of £0.8m against a pre-tax profit of £2m the year before, while group Ebitda fell from £4.2m to £2.6m. The company said: “Despite the challenges to trading, the group is pleased to report profit after highlighted items and before tax up 44% at £2.7m (2019: £1.8m), benefiting from the income from business interruption insurance, summer trading (especially at the pier and golf sites), government support by way of furlough, grants, rates and VAT reductions, as well as the one-off extinguishment of lease liabilities from the disposal of three bar sites.” Total bank debt at the end of the period was £16.7m (2019: £13.2m), comprising a £11.8m term loan and two Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans totalling £4.9m. Revenue for its pier division was at 73% of the prior period at £5.8m (2019: £7.9m). It said the division traded “especially well” given the impact of closures, loss of overseas tourists and only 19 weeks when all the pier’s attractions were able to be open. Gross margin and spend per head were both up, which it said went some way to mitigate the impact of covid-19. With like-for-like sales for the 13-week period to the end of the summer at 81%, the group is confident the pier’s trading will return strongly when trading resumes once again this coming summer. Revenue for the group’s bars division was at 11% of the prior period at £0.7m (2019: £6.6m). With almost all the bars estate closed throughout the period, these sales came from the two food-led operations. Lowlander in Covent Garden, which was impacted by the closure of theatres and non-essential retail, together with the loss of foreign tourists and many office staff working from home. However, the company said launches of a take-away offer and a “supper club” were well received at Lowlander and both initiatives will return once reopening is possible in the second half. July 2020 saw the launch of the new La Plage restaurant on the beach terrace of Coalition in Brighton, which proved to be a great success throughout the summer, and this too will be opening again as soon as possible in the second half. On 14 August 2020, with the majority of the late-night bars still closed, the group completed a process to serve notice on all but essential staff in the bars division, with most of these redundancies completed by the end of September 2020. The group said it was forced to take this action because, at that time, the government had yet to commit to extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme beyond its original end date of 31 October. Revenue for the company’s golf division was at 59% of the prior period at £1.7m (2019: £2.8m) despite only five clear weeks when all its sites were open. Different opening rules in Scotland, together with tier rules in the Midlands and north west, all resulted in many sites being closed. Sales were boosted by a new site at Plymouth Drake’s Circus, which opened for the first time at the end of October 2019 in the prior year. With like-for-likes sales on open sites for the 13-week period to the end of the summer at 87% of the same period last year, the group said it was confident the golf sites will also reopen strongly when able to do so. Highlighted items totalling £1.9m of gains (2019: £0.1m of expenses) were recognised during the period. These gains arise on the extinguishment of lease liabilities following disposal of three sites in the Bars division – PoNa Na in Bath, Fez in Cambridge and Smash in Wimbledon. The company said the disposal of these marginal sites will, in the long run, reduce overhead costs and improve the profitability of the bars division. Chief executive Anne Ackord said: “We look forward to the reopening of all of our businesses, following what has been a traumatic time for the whole industry. We are encouraged by our performance during the relatively short times when we have been permitted to operate and have full confidence that the group is well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that the anticipated staycation boom will present, along with the expected pent-up retail spend. We are pleased to note that the combination of the strong summer trading in the pier and golf coupled with the receipt of interim business interruption payments have resulted in earnings before tax 44% ahead of the same period last year.”

Ten Entertainment Group FY like-for-like sales down 17.4%: Ten Entertainment Group, which operates 46 family entertainment centres in the UK, has reported a 56.9% decline in total sales to £36.3m in the year to the end of 27 December 2020, with like-for-like sales down 17.4%. The company said the year included 11 weeks of normal trading conditions, 25 weeks of closure and 16 weeks of disrupted trading due to covid-19 restrictions. Group adjusted Ebitda fell £31.4m to minus £7.9m, while it slipped to a pre-tax loss of £12.2m, down from a £9m profit the year before. The company said its continued “prudent approach to debt management and a high performing first quarter” meant despite being closed for 26 weeks, it ended the year with just £12.6m of bank debt. With the addition of a new financing facility it currently still has more than £18m of remaining liquidity headroom and said it was well positioned to reopen strongly. The company said the first 11 weeks of 2020 were “very strong”. Total sales grew by 12.7% and like-for-like sales grew by 9.6%, which it said was a culmination of the accelerating sales growth seen in the second half of 2019. Capital investment programmes from new centres at Falkirk and Southport as well as the 2019 refurbishment centres all delivered good growth. Trading remained “brisk right up until the first lockdown was implemented”. Chief executive Graham Blackwell said: “2020 has been extremely challenging but we can be proud of the way we have protected the long-term future of the business. We progress towards the reopening of hospitality and leisure with a business that is fit and ready and more digitally driven than ever before. We used the time wisely in lockdown to transform our digital platforms and to prepare our business for the future, to open our next generation centre in Manchester and refurbish two of our flagship centres. We are in great shape, prepared, and looking forward to reopening, with our team eager to welcome back and entertain our customers.” Last week, the company announced Nick Basing was to step down as chairman. A process to appoint his successor has commenced. It is anticipated Basing will leave the business in September, following an orderly transition and handover period.

Domino’s to sell Icelandic business for £13.7m: Domino’s Pizza Group has signed a binding sale and purchase Agreement with PPH to sell the entire issued share capital of Domino’s Iceland for a total consideration of ISK 2.4bn (about £13.7m) on a cash-free, debt-free basis, which will be satisfied in cash. PPH is an investment vehicle owned by a consortium comprising Eyja fjárfestingafélag III, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eyja fjárfestingafélag, a vehicle controlled by Birgir Bieltvedt; Kristinn; Sjávarsýn; and Lýsi. Bieltvedt is an indirect owner of Domino’s Pizza Norway and, as previously announced, Domino’s Pizza has separately agreed the sale of its Swedish business to Bieltvedt’s vehicle, Eyja fjárfestingafélag III. The proceeds from the disposal will initially be used to reduce group debt. The transaction is subject to competition approval in Iceland and is expected to complete before the end of May 2021 assuming Icelandic competition clearance is obtained by 10 May 2021. Domino’s stated: “The disposal of Domino’s Iceland is part of the planned exit from all directly operated international markets to allow management to focus on its core UK and Ireland operations, as announced by the company in October 2019 and follows the exit in 2020 from Domino’s Norway and the announcement on 8 March 2021 of the exit from Domino’s Sweden. Discussions remain ongoing regarding a disposal of the company’s Swiss operations.” Domino’s Iceland is the master franchisee of Domino’s Pizza in Iceland and operates 23 stores in the country. Domino’s Iceland’s underlying operating profit for the year ended 27 December 2020 was ISK 101.2m (about £0.6m) and the value of its gross assets was ISK 3.822bn (about £22.1m) as at 27 December 2020.

Deliveroo’s customer share offering on track to be oversubscribed: Deliveroo customers seeking to invest in the business’ £8.8bn float are set to receive larger portions of shares if they have ordered regularly through the company’s app. The £50m “community offering” is on track to be oversubscribed, meaning applicants will be ranked according to their “loyalty”, with the shares apportioned accordingly, City sources told The Times. Deliveroo owns an app through which customers order deliveries from restaurants and groceries from shops. Unusually for a big initial public offering, Deliveroo is selling some shares directly to individual investors instead of relying solely on financial institutions. Applications for its community offering close on Tuesday (30 March). UK-based customers who have placed at least one order through Deliveroo can apply for up to £1,000 of shares in increments of £250. Deliveroo said in its float prospectus that it would “prioritise its most loyal customers first” if the community offer was oversubscribed, and that it had “absolute discretion to decide on any individual allocation”. If the offer is oversubscribed, the size of each applicant’s allocation will depend on an internal customer ranking assigned by Deliveroo, one source said. The ranking is the product of Deliveroo’s algorithms and is based on the number of orders they have made, among other things, the source said. Meanwhile, The Times also reported British technology investor and a huge backer of takeaway delivery platforms, has said he will not be investing in Deliveroo. James Anderson, manager of Scottish Mortgage, the UK’s biggest investment trust, said he was “lukewarm” about Deliveroo because of its focus on slower-growing markets and its overreliance on London. While Deliveroo operates in Asian markets including Hong Kong and Singapore, it receives most of its revenues in slower-growth countries. The UK and Ireland accounted for 51.3% of its gross value last year. Anderson has accumulated large stakes in other home delivery platforms, including Meituan in China, Delivery Hero, a key force in other Asian markets, and Grubhub in America. Deliveroo, which wants to raise £1bn through the share sale, is due to price its flotation on Wednesday (31 March), selling on a precise price within the indicative range of 390p to 460p, valuing the company at £7.6bn to £8.8bn. Deliveroo said it has received “very significant demand from institutions across the globe”.

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