Newcastle pub chain Sir John Fitzgerald is back in the black

Independent pub and bar chain Sir John Fitzgerald is back in the black after sustaining losses for the last three years

The Bridge Hotel in Newcastle
The Bridge Hotel in Newcastle

Independent pub and bar chain Sir John Fitzgerald is back in the black after sustaining losses for the last three years.

The Newcastle-based company, which runs a selection of venues across the North East, has ridden out a tough few years to post pre-tax profits of £337,004 for the year ended January 2013 – a major turnaround in its finances after reporting a loss of £411,202 for the previous 12 months.

Sales were largely static at £17.54m, down from the £17.83m for the year before, but the firm said trading in the first 16 weeks of the current financial year is 1% up on last year.

The company, which owns Newcastle venues Bridge Hotel, Crown Posada, The Bodega, Fitzgeralds and The Bacchus, said it intends to carry out a programme of refurbishment and maintenance during the rest of the year, a programme it expects to impact on both revenues and profits.

Sir John Fitzgerald began life more than a century ago, after the firm’s founder John Fitzgerald moved to Newcastle from Ireland in 1850.

In the 19th century Fitzgerald was knighted in recognition of his services to the city, and the company has grown to operate as a family-run firm operating real ale and food pubs across Tyneside, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Whitley Bay for almost 100 years ago.

However, in its 2010 annual accounts the firm warned it was bracing itself for tough times ahead.

Having staved off the effects of the downturn on the pub trade the firm prepared itself for the knock-on consequences of the public sector cuts, as well as the government’s plans to change the licensing act.

The company warned at the time that the future outlook for the business was “uncertain” due to the country’s debt situation and the fact the licensed trade has been under siege in recent years from a variety of factors.

The following year saw the company drop from a £1.23m profit to a £1.4m loss over the year to January 31, while its sales slid from £18.9m to £18.6m over the same period, and the firm admitted the £1.23m profit in 2009 was largely down to the sale of some of its assets and the release of grant income.

Last year saw the company post losses once more, despite reducing them to £400,000 from the previous £1.4m, until a reversal of fortunes began during the last financial year.

In its directors’ report, it said: “Our industry is affected by prosperity and our future will be determined by local prosperity.

“The management of the business and the execution of the company’s strategy are subject to a number of risks.

“We have considered the key business risks affecting the company and are satisfied we have done what we can to minimise the risk.

“In particular, and in the light of the current commercial environment, the company has taken steps to substantially reduce its borrowings.

“During the year the management took steps to substantially reduce the company’s exposure to debt and entered into a new term loan facility to provide sufficient operations until 2016.”

No dividends were paid out during the year and average headcount at the firm was reduced to 528 employees from 541 the previous year.

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