Co-op’s ethical message creates a rod for its own back

The mutual presents an example of what happens when decision making comes counter to stated company values.

by Stephen Jones

Everyone loves to call out a hypocrite and this week the Co-op Group is firmly in everyone's sights. The mutual has drawn scorn after it revealed plans not to pay back £66m in coronavirus business rates relief despite seeing pre-tax profits rise from £24m to £127m in the year ending January 2. The group will repay £16m in furlough payments. 

The Co-op's grocery stores have been able to remain open during the pandemic, and it has been boosted by increased sales in its wholesale Nisa Local business and funerals division, but group chair Allan Leighton says that the pandemic has still “turned plans upside down.” 

“We welcomed money from the Government on the basis that it was not a loan and we would not need to pay it back – and we took business decisions accordingly,” adds Leighton in a release on the group’s website. Co-op has been beset by the additional £84m cost of employing extra staff and providing protective equipment during the coronavirus crisis.

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