TIM Martin, the chairman of JD Wetherspoon, has a history of ruffling feathers. There are many people in his own industry who hold hugely different political views to the pub trade veteran.

Mr Martin’s strong advocacy for Brexit, for example, will have met with considerable opposition within the hospitality and tourism sector, where operators continue to face problems with staff recruitment following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

However, there would have been no shortage of contemporaries of Mr Martin who will have been nodding in agreement following the leisure chief’s latest foray into politics this week.

Mr Martin revealed on Monday that prices in Wetherspoon’s 850 pubs around the UK will be cut by 7.5 per cent for one day (today). The move is designed to illustrate the benefit that a reduction in value-added tax of that scale – from the current 20% to 12.5% – would have on an industry that is increasingly feeling the strain from spiralling energy costs and soaring consumer prices inflation.

Taking aim at supermarkets, which Wetherspoon said pay zero VAT on food and use the savings to sell alcohol at reduced prices, Mr Martin declared: “Taxes should be fair and equitable. It doesn’t make sense for the hospitality industry to subsidise supermarkets. However, it is unfair that supermarkets pay zero VAT on food, but pubs and restaurants pay 20%.”

Observers of the hospitality industry will know that Mr Martin, and indeed countless others in the sector, have been banging this drum for years.

Speaking to The Herald last week, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, explained that a VAT cut is effective because it injects cash into a business straight away. It frees up vital funds to deal with other costs and can benefit the customer in the form of lower prices at the till.

Noting that the VAT cut earlier in the pandemic had been the “single biggest measure to underpin business viability” during the Covid crisis, Ms Nicholls told The Herald: “It really is the quickest and easiest way to get that protection that is needed for jobs and for workers, because the business can then direct that money to those people that need it most – their consumers and their workers.”

Hospitality campaigners have been making this point for many years now, and frequently point out the benefits that a lower rate of VAT has not just on operators, but jobs and government coffers in countries across Europe.

But what gives the argument greater currency now is the enormous pressure the industry is facing because of surging energy costs – many outlets are believed to have seen their bills rise by up to 300% – and the impact of ultra-high inflation, which is hammering consumer confidence. In that regard, there was some relief last Thursday when Prime Minister Liz Truss announced, alongside a £2,500 cap on annual fuel bills for a typical household, that there would be emergency relief for business from surging energy costs for a six-month period. Further support would also be made available for “vulnerable industries”, which the UK Government signalled will include hospitality, after those six months.

However, while the pledge of support was reassuring to hear, there is now mounting concern over how long it will take to deliver.

A report in The Financial Times yesterday highlighted fears that it could be November before a scheme underpinning support for business from exorbitant energy costs is in place. The prospect of such a delay is especially worrying, the report explained, for companies that reach the end of fixed-price energy contracts in October.

One reason for the delay is that there is no comparable system to the rolling price cap currently operated by Ofgem for consumers for the business sector. The FT also reported that the Government’s plans for an energy support scheme for business may require legislation, the passage of which will be delayed by the fact Parliament is currently suspended following the death of the Queen. Parliament will then move into recess during party conference season in October.

Given the huge pressure they are currently facing, the prospect of a delay in getting lifeline support to businesses is deeply worrying. Indeed, the situation is so precarious that even a delay of several weeks could be enough to tip some firms over the edge, taking much-needed jobs with them.

Ms Nicholls made her views on the possible delay clear as she reacted to the news in a tweet on Tuesday evening, when she declared that it “seems ludicrous to go ahead with conference recess” when the stakes are so high.

Just days before, she had set out in stark language the scale of the challenges facing her sector, when she stated that hotels and restaurants may “go dark” this Christmas and New Year because their owners simply will not be able to afford their energy bills. There has already been a sharp rise in closures, she said.

Ms Nicholls said in The Herald on Saturday: “The scale of the challenges facing the sector is big, it is real, and it is happening now. This is a real-time crisis; it is a daily deteriorating situation, and we need to get the details of what that package means for those businesses and what support might be looked at understood as quickly as possible.”

Of course, hospitality is not the only industry at breaking point because of the current cost crisis.

As it published its latest quarterly survey on September 2, Scottish Engineering declared that soaring energy bills are a “potentially existential threat” to engineering and manufacturing companies, stating that a “full-blown industrial crisis” was already here.

It pointed out the unfathomable situation where companies were “sitting on full order books” yet taking advice on voluntary liquidation, such was the severity of energy bills they are facing. One company, which has fewer than 50 employees, had been told its energy bill would rise from £15,000 to £80,000 per month.

The predicament facing this firm is mirrored right across the business world right now.

The UK Government deserves a degree of credit for vowing to help. But that help needs to come now. It should not be side-tracked by political party conferences that are surely secondary to a massive economic crisis.