Sainsbury’s joins Tesco and Morrisons with £440m business rates payments

Sainsbury’s will hand over £440 million saved from the Government’s business rates holiday – joining Tesco and Morrisons who made the same commitment to hand back to saved cash.

The decision by the three grocers means around £1.3 billion will be paid to the Government and puts more pressure on rivals to follow suit. Tesco will hand back £585 million and Morrisons £274 million.

Bosses at Sainsbury’s said sales and profits have been stronger than expected since the start of the second national lockdown in England and the payment will come despite spending £290 million on making the business Covid-safe.

Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s chief executive, said: “While we have incurred significant costs in keeping colleagues and customers safe, food and other essential retailers have benefited from being able to open throughout.

“With regional restrictions likely to remain in place for some time, we believe it is now fair and right to forgo the business rates relief that we have been given on all Sainsbury’s stores.

“We are very mindful that non-essential retailers and many other businesses have been forced to close again in the second lockdown and we hope that this goes some way towards helping them.

“We continue to urge Government to review the business rates system to create more of a level playing field between physical and online retailers.”

The company said it had been considering the issue since the announcement of a second lockdown in England and will speak to Government on how to make the payments.

The business rates holiday was announced in March by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, aimed at helping retailers and hospitality firms forced to close due to the pandemic.

Asked on Wednesday if it would match the Tesco pledge, the Co-op said the amount spent on protecting staff and customers outweighed the savings.

Co-op store
(Co-op/PA)

It added: “Given the huge uncertainty we’re facing… and the ongoing costs we are incurring, we’ll consider our approach in terms of the Government support we’ve received at year end.”

A spokesman for Waitrose-owner the John Lewis Partnership said: “We are incredibly grateful for this vital support because we have lost significant sales while our John Lewis shops have been closed, and have invested heavily to keep our partners and customers safe.

“The outlook remains incredibly uncertain and Government support remains crucial to help us navigate the crisis.

“We’re a business owned by our employees – our partners, not external shareholders – and we don’t intend to pay a bonus this year.

“Whenever we make any money, it is invested in our partners, our business and charitable giving.”

Data compiled last month for the PA news agency by real estate adviser Altus Group projected that the UK’s four largest grocers – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – and German rivals Aldi and Lidl would save around £1.87 billion as a result of the rates holiday.

The total saving for all “essential” retailers, which have been allowed to remain open, is around £3.03 billion, Altus added, from a total rates bill of £10.1 billion.

Early in the pandemic, Tesco and rival supermarkets faced criticism for taking the rates relief at the same time as handing out dividends to shareholders. It did not use the Government’s furlough scheme.

The figures from Altus showed Asda was projected to save £297 million, Aldi £109 million and Lidl £108 million, for the year.

In Wales, the six major supermarkets still had to pay around £78 million for some stores as a result of devolved business rates.

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