Forbes gains millions from supermarkets repayments
The supermarket chain has performed strongly
Scotland’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes is expecting further multi-million cash handbacks after two more supermarket groups said they would repay the business rates relief provided during the pandemic.
Sainsbury’s said it will forgo £440 million business rates relief on its stores granted by the UK Government and the devolved administrations since March.
Its announcement follows the decision by Tesco to repay £585m, including £60m to the Scottish Government. Morrisons later announced it would return £230m.
Following Tesco’s decision, Ms Forbes said: “We will ensure this money is fully spent on those who have been hardest hit during Scotland’s recovery from Covid.”
Kate Forbes: awaiting millions (pic: Terry Murden)
Sainsbury’s said that since the Covid-19 outbreak emerged in March it has hired 56,000 people, paid 13,000 colleagues to self-isolate for 12 weeks and made nearly nine million grocery deliveries to elderly, disabled and vulnerable customers.
“We have not taken any furlough payments or any other form of government support. Since March we have also committed to donate £10 million to charities and local communities,” it said.
“Sainsbury’s sales and profits have been stronger than originally expected, particularly since the start of the second national lockdown in England and we have therefore taken the decision to forego the business rates relief on all Sainsbury’s stores.
Simon Roberts, CEO, 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 remain focused on delivering the plan we set out at our half year results. We continue to urge government to review the business rates system to create more of a level playing field between physical and online retailers.”
Sainsbury’s said it now expects underlying profit before tax of at least £270 million for the financial year to March 2021.
It additionally expects to generate average retail free cash flow of £500 million per year over the three years to March 2025
The board believes that shareholders should not bear the full short-term financial impact this year of the business making the right decisions for customers and colleagues through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Therefore, when considering free cash flow allocation this year the board will prioritise payment of dividends to shareholders over net debt reduction.
“As a consequence, while we expect to make good progress towards our target of at least £750 million net debt reduction in the three years to March 2022, we now expect to achieve this target by March 2023.”