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Whiting & Hammond boss warns business rate changes may impact profits

By Chris Price

Pub chain Whiting & Hammond has relaunched one of its bars damaged in a fire, but has warned changes to business rates may impact profits.

In September, the Tonbridge-based company reopened of the Mark Cross Inn in Crowborough, East Sussex, which was damaged in a blaze in April.

Latest accounts show the firm swung back into profit in the year to the end of September 2016.

The Cricketers Inn in Meopham is a Whiting & Hammond pub
The Cricketers Inn in Meopham is a Whiting & Hammond pub

It made a pre-tax surplus of more than £101,000 after sustaining losses of £281,000 a year earlier.

Founder Brian Keeley-Whiting said high taxes may impact profits when it next reports its annual results, including revised business rates which came into force in April.

It has been rumoured the Chancellor Philip Hammond may opt to cancel more hikes in rates when he delivers his Autumn Budget on November 22.

In his company report, Mr Keeley-Whiting said: “We still feel the 20% VAT on sales is a continual stranglehold in our industry with supermarkets still not having to implement this tax on
ready-made meals.

“This will be further compounded in the future by a massive increase in business rates and this will definitely have a knock-on effect for next year’s profitability.”

Turnover increased 20% to £11.1 million in large part due to the acquisition and opening of the Rose & Crown in Green Street Green, Orpington.

Brian Keeley-Whiting runs Whiting & Hammond
Brian Keeley-Whiting runs Whiting & Hammond

Mr Keeley-Whiting said trade at the pub was “exceeding expectation”.

He hinted at the potential for more acquisitions, saying “further sites are under consideration”.

However, the focus is on making sure the “recent additions to the estate are making a strong contribution to the overall business”.

Whiting & Hammond, which employs about 320 people, also runs the Cricketers in Meopham, the Chaser Inn in Shipbourne, the Kings Head in Bessels Green and is headquartered at the Little Brown Jug in Tonbridge. It also has pubs in Sussex and Surrey.

Its good financial performance helped offset the sale of Stanmer House in Brighton in June last year, along with the “continuing progress” of the Blue Ball in Surrey.

Underlying food and drink margins remained “very stable”.

Mr Keeley-Whiting added: “Trading conditions remain competitive with town-based chains offering an alternative dining experience particularly in poorer weather.

“However, the company remains focused on its offering of excellent food and service in a pub environment such that the underlying customer base remains firm.”

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