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Waitrose faces pressure to return business relief

Waitrose and the Co-op Group are facing growing pressure to repay the government business relief rates.

Following the news this week that Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Aldi have all pledged to return the cash they received in the height of the pandemic, pressure on the remaining supermarket rivals has mounted.

The Co-op has said that amid the pandemic, the group has seen finances hit amid costs of funeral operations and its commitment to pay the National Living Wage.

A spokesperson said: “The Co-op response to helping to feed and care for the nation during COVID has been outstanding, and we are immensely proud of what our colleagues have achieved.”

Meanwhile, Waitrose has said that it will not the returning the money. The supermarket group 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.”

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“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.”

The John Lewis Partnership owns both Waitrose and M&S. M&S reported its first-ever loss back in Novermber, while John Lewis has cancelled the 2021 annual staff bonus and is also headed for a full-year loss.

Asda was the latest to join the group of supermarkets who have said they will repay the relief rates. The supermarket said: “We recognise that there are other industries and businesses for whom the effects of Covid-19 will be much more long lasting and whose survival is essential to thousands of jobs.”

“But, as the hope of a vaccine and a more ‘normal’ life returning in 2021 grows, we have confidence that we are in a strong position to again do the right thing for the communities we serve,” added the chief executive.

In total so far, the Treasury will receive £1.8bn from supermarkets.

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