Premier Inn owner Whitbread is to slash up to 6,000 jobs across its hotel and restaurant operations.

The cuts in the face of a Covid-19 sales slump were described as a “regrettable but necessary step” to ensure the company emerges from the crisis with a lower cost base, a more flexible operating model and a stronger more resilient business

Whitbread said: “We continue to focus on taking measured and appropriate action, at the right time, to protect the business.

“With market demand expected to remain at lower levels in the short to medium-term, we have now taken the very difficult decision to announce our intention to enter into consultation on proposals that could result in up to 6,000 redundancies for our colleagues, representing 18% of our total workforce.

“We expect a significant proportion of these redundancies to be achieved voluntarily.

“Our priority now is to ensure that the process is fair and that impacted colleagues are supported throughout.”

Chief executive Alison Brittain said: “Our teams have worked very hard to reopen our hotels and restaurants and we are now firmly in the ‘restore’ phase of our response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“Our performance following the reopenings has been ahead of the market, however, it has been clear from the beginning of this crisis that even as restrictions are eased and hospitality businesses such as ours reopen their doors, that demand would be materially lower than FY20 levels for a period of time.

“Given this backdrop, we have already taken extensive action to protect the business, retain financial flexibility and position it for long-term success.

“We continue to work hard to ensure that we emerge from the crisis with a more flexible operating model and a stronger, more resilient business.”

She added: “With demand for travel remaining subdued, we are now having to make some very difficult decisions, and it is with great regret that today we are announcing our intention to enter into a consultation process that could result in up to 6,000 redundancies in the UK, of which it is hoped that a significant proportion can be achieved voluntarily.

“In line with our longstanding values of treating our people fairly, our priority is now to ensure that this process is clear and transparent for all colleagues and that everyone impacted is supported throughout.

“We will continue to focus on the safety of our guests and teams and the continuity of our business.

“Maintaining our financial flexibility alongside our leading operating model and powerful brand will allow Whitbread to pursue enhanced long-term structural growth opportunities both in the UK and Germany.

“This will leave us in a position of strength to continue to invest, increase market share, support our colleagues, guests and suppliers and create value for shareholders.”