Co-op risks reputational row by not repaying full government funding

Co-op Steve Murrells Allan Leighton
Co-op’s 2500 food stores remained open throughout the Covid-19 crisis
// Co-op revenue reaches £11.5bn in the full year to January 2
// Reported profit after tax was £127m compared with £24m last year
// Co-op said it will not repay all of the government funding it received during the pandemic

The Co-op Group has reported a revenue growth for the 51 weeks to January 2, thanks to “another good year” for its food business.

Revenue reached £11.5 billion from £10.9 billion last year, with food growth of 3.5 per cent.

Reported profit after tax was £127 million compared with £24 million last year.


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The Co-op Group is currently risking a reputational row this Thursday when it announces that it will not repay all of the government funding it received during the pandemic.

Co-op’s 2500 food stores remained open throughout the Covid-19 crisis.

The retailer said it will commit to a partial repayment of state support alongside its annual results, following weeks of talks between board members.

Co-op’s board had eventually reached a unanimous decision on the issue despite opposing views about whether approximately £80 million of business rates relief and furlough funding should be repaid in full.

The precise sum that will be repaid was unclear on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, the retailer recorded additional Covid costs during the year of £84 million, including additional new colleagues, increased colleague absence linked to the virus, a colleague “Thank You” reward and the purchasing of personal protective equipment.

Co-op’s food sales reached £7.8 billion. up 3.5 per cent on 2019, with like-for-like sales up 6.9 per cent.

Its wholesale business achieved sales of £1.6 billion compared to £1.4 billion in 2019; 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.

Its online offer expanded significantly during the year, with 800 Co-op Food stores now providing food to homes via our delivery partners.

“In 2020 we lived through a perfect storm, with every part of our lives turned upside down – socially and economically, mentally and physically,” Co-op chief executive Steve Murrells said.

“Along the way we discovered much about our society, some of it brilliant and inspiring, and some of it quite ugly thanks to the unfairness and inequality Covid-19 has revealed and exacerbated.

“During the last few years, we’ve created a business that is truly focused on delivering clear value and benefits for our members, customers and their communities.

“All that work proved to be essential in giving us the ability to respond to the immediate and sustained demands which the pandemic brought with it.

“Our Vision, Co-operating for a Fairer World, was our guiding light throughout, and our response to Covid-19 demonstrated the power of co-operative enterprise and the relevance of co-operative values.”

Co-op Independent Non-Executive Chair Allan Leighton said: “Covid-19 presented us with a national emergency and a unique set of business challenges and community needs which showed that co-operation was capable of making a difference during an extraordinary time in the nation’s history.

“I am proud of how we rose to the challenge of the pandemic through our business operations and through our support to local communities.

“Creating Co-op value for our members has always been at the heart of our endeavours and I believe that reached new heights during 2020.

“On behalf of the Board, I want to acknowledge the incredible commitment shown by Co-op colleagues across all parts and at all levels of the business throughout 2020.

“It was an outstanding achievement, which epitomised our Co-op way of doing business, throughout a year that none of us will forget.”

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