Britain's Co-op, the supermarket and funerals group, said it would return to government £15.5 million (€17.9 million) of furlough payments it claimed in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic but would retain its business rates relief.
The Co-op said in a press release that it took the government support in good faith, not expecting to have to pay the money back and made forward-looking business decisions on that basis.
The amount enabled the business to fully support its workforce and keep 3,400 community-based food stores and funeral homes open.
For the 52 weeks to 2 January, food sales at the retailer stood at £7.8 billion, which was up 3.5% on 2019, while like-for-like sales were up 6.9%.
In addition, its wholesale business achieved sales of £1.6 billion compared to £1.4 billion in 2019, while a further 624 new independent stores signed up by Nisa.
During the pandemic, 56 new Co-op stores were opened, a further 105 were refitted and 13 more were extended.
'A Vital And Unique Role'
Commenting on its decision to retain business rates relief, Allan Leighton, Co-op Group Chair, said, "The Co-op has played a vital and unique role in feeding and caring for the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to do so as the vaccine programme is further rolled out."
Leighton added that the pandemic turned The Co-op's plans "upside down" and, while its revenues went up marginally, costs increased dis-proportionately.
Business Rates Relief
Most UK supermarket groups have repaid business rates relief.
In December of last year, UK supermarkets Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Asda, Aldi decided to hand back a total of £1.74 billion of property tax relief received by them since March 2020, when the British government and devolved administrations exempted all retailers from paying the tax on their stores for the 2020/21 financial year.
In March of this year, Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons said they would forgo business rates relief again, granted to them in finance minister Rishi Sunak's budget statement.