THE chairman of pub company JD Wetherspoon has urged publicans to focus on fighting for tax equality with supermarkets instead of pinning their hopes on securing a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol.

A challenge led by the Scotch Whisky Association against MUP legislation in Scotland was rejected at the Court of Session last week. The industry group has pledged to appeal.

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin said pubs would be better to focus on tackling the VAT discrepancy between pubs and supermarkets than trying to introduce a minimum unit price. While VAT of 20% is applied to meals sold in pubs, hotels and restaurants, food sold by supermarkets generally does not attract the tax.

Mr Martin, who wants VAT to be cut to 5% for the hospitality industry, said: "I would say to publicans to concentrate on getting tax equality with supermarkets. That will give you a shot in the arm. If you concentrate on minimum pricing you will still be at a tax disadvantage with the supermarkets. That will kill you in the end."

His comments on tax policy came as Wetherspoon reported a like-for-like sales increase of 6.3% for the 13 weeks to April 28. Sales were up 9.3% on a total basis for the period. Like-for-like sales rose by 6.7% for the 39 weeks to April 28, with total sales up 10.1%.

The company said it expects like-for-like sales to be lower in the final quarter compared with the year to date given that like-for-like sales grew by 6.1% in the final quarter of last year.

Mr Martin said: "It has been a solid performance. We managed to increase sales and the margins were OK.

"We have done pretty well in the circumstances but we haven't shot the lights out. We're still not Microsoft or Apple, to my regret."

Mr Martin said the strength of the company's supply chain helped steer it through the horsemeat scandal unscathed. But he added that the controversy may have dented consumer confidence in eating in pubs.

He said: "It has helped that our supply chain proved to be 100% reliable. Anyone can get defrauded so you don't want to take the moral high ground, but that probably helped us a bit."

Wetherspoon did not open any pubs in Scotland over the quarter and runs 61 north of the Border. It opened its most recent in Scotland in Fort William on May 5, and plans to launch a pub in Blairgowrie in June.