JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said he was unable to “rule out” future job cuts as the company reported its first annual loss in 36 years.

The pub chain reported a loss of £105.4 million after sales took a £556 million hit from the Covid-19 crisis, reports the Press Association.

The company said it saw an increase in business in the weeks following the easing of lockdown but the new restrictions and 10pm curfew have seen this fall back.

Speaking to journalists in London earlier today, founder Mr Martin said it was “difficult” to say how long the chain could last without further fundraising, adding it “kind of depends on the government”.

He said: “We can last for a decent amount of time, possibly a year or two, but if everything goes into Tier 3 (restrictions), it will shorten the times.

“And it will be (able to last) forever if we go back to what (measures) was applied on July 4.”

Asked if he would be forced to “reduce headcount”, Mr Martin said: “You can’t rule anything out at the moment.”

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The company suffered a £29 million hit from one-off costs due to coronavirus, including £5.9 million in drinks and food that had to be thrown away, £6.2 million on PPE, screens and other equipment to make pubs Covid-secure, and £17.1 million on staff costs.

However, it also benefited from a £15.9 million payout from HMRC over a long-term gaming machine dispute.

The loss is the first time the chain has sunk into the red since 1984 but the company remains confident that it can continue to trade.

No details were provided on potential or recent job losses but two pubs were opened and nine were sold or closed.

Mr Martin instead attacked politicians and the media who reported that the company was considering withholding wages at the start of lockdown in March – a decision that was eventually not taken, with workers said to be paid throughout.

Outbreaks of the virus among employees were limited, the company said, with only one instance where local authority health officials found insufficient social distancing in staff-only areas, which “probably resulted in four staff members testing positive”.

But there have been no cases reported to the chain of a transfer of the virus between customers or staff in public areas, it added.

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In terms of sales, Wetherspoon revealed that sales in the year to July 26 fell from £1.82 billion to £1.26 billion, with a loss of £105.4 million. In 2019, under slightly different accounting rules, the company made a pre-tax profit of £95.4 million.

In the 11 weeks since, sales have been 15 per cent below those of last year, with strong sales in the first few weeks, followed by a marked slowdown since the introduction of a curfew and other regulations.

The company added that approximately 46 million customers have visited Wetherspoon pubs since July 4.

Mr Martin said table service has been particularly costly to the chain and renewed calls on the government to change regulations which continue to favour supermarkets.

He said: “It makes no sense for supermarkets to be treated more leniently than pubs, since pubs generate far more jobs per pint or meal than do supermarkets, as well as far higher levels of tax.

“Pubs also make an important contribution to the social life of many communities and have better visibility and control of those who consume alcoholic drinks.”