Upper Crust owner plunges to a £300million loss

Upper Crust owner plunges to a £300million loss and warns it will take three YEARS to recover after sales crashed 79 per cent and 14,000 jobs were cut due to collapse of Britain’s lunchtime economy amid coronavirus lockdowns

  • London-based group saw pre-tax losses for six months to March 31 hit £299.7mil
  • Revenues fell dramatically – down 79% against pre-pandemic levels to £256.7mil 
  • SSP furloughed over 22,000 employees across the world at the peak of the crisis
  • But bosses said trading turning around as sites in airports and stations reopen 

Upper Crust owner SSP has plunged to a loss of £300million and warned it does not expect to recover to pre-pandemic levels for another three years.

The London-based group, whose food and drink sites are located at airports and railway stations, saw pre-tax losses for the six months to March 31 hit £299.7million, up from £34.3million a year ago.

Revenues also fell dramatically – down 79 per cent against pre-pandemic levels to £256.7million. The company was heavily hit due to lockdowns and decimated passenger numbers in travel markets.

SSP shut about 2,500 outlets and furloughed over 22,000 employees across the world at the peak of the crisis. It has already cut 14,000 jobs. 

Upper Crust, whose food and drink sites are located at airports and railway stations, saw pre-tax losses for the six months to March 31 hit £299.7million (file photo of group’s cafe in London’s Marylebone Station)

But chief executive Simon Smith (pictured above) said teams are ‘busy reopening units in line with passenger demand’ as countries ease travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers

But bosses said trading had begun turning around as sites reopen and passenger numbers improve, particularly in the UK and US, with sales in the first week of June down around 70 per cent on 2019 levels.

They added that renewed travel restrictions, largely in India and Thailand, were continuing to weigh on the group and it expects third-quarter sales to be down around 75 per cent on 2019.

SSP said it remained financially robust following a rights issue in April, alongside extensions to bank facilities until 2024 and the waiver and amendments of covenants with lenders.

However, net debt increased to £840million in March this year from £692million at the end of September 2020. SSP has access to facilities worth around £854million, it said.

Since the end of March, the company has reopened 250 units, taking the total number of sites open to around 1,150. 

It added: ‘If current trends continue, we expect to have 1,200-1,500 units open over the summer, in line with the recovery in demand.’

The Indian variant is now dominant in more than two thirds of England’s local authorities, and has spread to 85 per cent of the country, according to the latest surveillance data from Britain’s leading centre for tracking the virus the Sanger Institute

Cases in Bolton have begun to fall amid surge testing to root out every case of the Indian variant. Bolton was the first area in England to experience a major outbreak of the mutant strain

Department of Health data shows its Covid hospitalisations are also now falling, and did not reach the peaks during either the first or second wave. NHS officials in the area say they are confident they will not be overwhelmed

Demand for air and rail travel is expected to increase in the coming months, particularly in the leisure segment, after more than a year in the doldrums as mass vaccination programmes gain pace and countries ease travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers. 

Chief executive Simon Smith said: ‘The recovery in domestic and leisure travel has now begun in a number of our territories, and our teams are busy reopening units in line with passenger demand.

‘Over the past year we’ve strengthened our competitive advantages and created a more flexible operating model.

‘We have a strong balance sheet and can see many opportunities to accelerate growth as the market recovers and to deliver sustainable growth for the benefit of all our stakeholders.’

In March, the firm said that conditions had not improved in the first two quarters of the 2020-2021 fiscal year. It also reported a two-year extension to its bank facilities, due to mature in 2022, and waivers of existing borrowing terms. 

Freedom Day delayed for a MONTH? Minister warns ‘wait until you’ve heard from the PM’ on Monday before planning your summer amid fears for weddings and large events

Weddings with more than 30 guests will likely not be allowed from June 21, cabinet minister Robert Jenrick hinted today, amid calls to push back the final unlocking by at least a month.

Asked whether long-awaited events were set to be permitted on England’s ‘Freedom Day’, the Communities Secretary said: ‘I wouldn’t make plans until you have heard from the PM if that is important to you, but weddings can go ahead right now but just with the maximum of 30 guests.’

‘We have always said that the roadmap is subject to review of the data. That is what is happening right now, so whether it is weddings or international travel or any of these other important topics, you always have to wait until the judgement is made on the basis of the data at the decision point.’

Boris Johnson is facing mounting pressure from some jittery scientists to delay the reopening amid the rapid spread of the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, with the Government’s top scientists Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance reportedly saying the date must be pushed back. A decision is set to be announced in five days time.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick hinted today that long-awaited weddings for more than 30 guests could be delayed beyond June 21 as the Prime Minister comes under increasing pressure to delay lockdown easing

Rishi Sunak (left, pictured at Oswald’s club in London last night) could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown of ‘a week or two’ following calls to delay the final stage of the roadmap out of lockdown. Michael Gove (right) has said he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the coronavirus rules on June 21 – if he were a ‘betting man’

But other experts have called on the Prime Minister not to delay the unlocking, saying people must learn to live with the virus and the NHS is expected to be ‘able to cope’ with hospitalisations sparked by the Indian variant.

Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on Covid, said ‘life has to go on’ when asked whether the Government should stick to its roadmap on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘The last thing any of us want is to have people needing to go on restricting their lives but this virus has not gone away,’ he added.

And Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents hospitals across England, said if hospitalisations sparked by the mutant strain — which is now dominant in the country — follow Bolton, the NHS will likely ‘be able to cope’ with any added pressure from the virus. 

Bolton’s Covid admissions are falling, with many patients in its hospitals being un-vaccinated or suffering only a mild disease.

Debate about the lifting of lockdown has intensified at the top of government following a surge in Covid cases. Pictured: People line up to receive their Covid vaccination in Stanmore, London

DARK RED/PURPLE = MORE INDIAN VARIANT CASES. Variant-tracking data from the Wellcome Sanger Institute shows that the now-dominant Indian ‘Delta’ strain is hotly focused in the North West of England, where the new restrictions are coming into place

It comes as sources revealed Rishi Sunak could reluctantly accept an extension to lockdown — but for no longer than ‘a week or two’ — however The Guardian today claimed the Chancellor was willing to accept a delay of up to four weeks. Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove said yesterday he would ‘bet on a relaxation’ of the Covid rules on June 21 — if he were a ‘betting man’.

Ministers yesterday ramped up support for Greater Manchester and parts of Lancashire — which have been hit by a large outbreak of the Indian variant — to back surge testing and boost its vaccination drive, which Matt Hancock said ‘is known to work’ against outbreaks of the virus.

Andy Burnham, Manchester’s mayor, said there was ‘every reason to believe’ the extra support will successfully curb the spread of the mutant strain.

Ministers are considering delaying the final stage of the road map out of lockdown following jittery warnings from scientists about the spread of the Indian variant. Some are pushing for restrictions to remain in place until as late as the start of English school holidays on July 23.

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