Hand back furlough billions, firms urged as Redrow refunds taxpayer

Hand back furlough billions, firms are urged as builder Redrow becomes the latest to pledge to return the money

Big companies are facing pressure to hand back taxpayer cash used to furlough their staff after the support scheme’s cost topped £25billion.

Housebuilder Redrow is the latest to pledge to return the money, following similar announcements by Taylor Wimpey, Ikea, outsourcer Bunzl and Games Workshop.

The company, which had furloughed 1,700 staff, said its finances had proved ‘resilient’ and it no longer needed the support. 

Paying it back: Housebuilder Redrow is the latest to pledge to return the money, following similar announcements by Taylor Wimpey, Ikea, outsourcer Bunzl and Games Workshop

Campaigners urged others to follow suit, as figures revealed the furlough scheme has now cost the public purse £25.5billion.

Overall, UK government borrowing is on course to exceed £300billion this year, while public debt is bigger than GDP for the first time in 57 years.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance spokesman Jeremy Hutton said: ‘Firms like this, doing the right thing and paying back the furlough cash, are a good example of what we need to see as we rebuild the public finances. The spotlight may turn to those who hold public funds they did not need.

‘Taxpayers are likely to remember those businesses that pulled out all the stops to help, and those that didn’t.’

Financial support for firms furloughing workers, officially called the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme, was unveiled by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March and launched the following month.

It aims to help businesses retain staff who would have been laid off, providing a grant worth 80 per cent or up to £2,500 per month of an employee’s wages.

Some 9.3m jobs are being supported by the scheme, although Sunak has said it will begin winding down from August. Experts predict its total cost could reach £60billion by the end of October.

Some major firms avoided using the scheme. But its use by others that are hugely profitable has proved controversial, while there are also fears that some employers will pocket the cash and still lay off workers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last month: ‘It is very important companies recognise the Government, the taxpayer, has gone to huge lengths to help put our arms around UK business.

‘They should do what they can as well to look after their workers in very difficult times.’ Builder Taylor Wimpey, which made a profit of £836million last year, vowed last month to return money.

And yesterday Redrow, which made profits of £406million last year, said: ‘Given resilient cash flow, the group has decided not to utilise the Government’s job retention scheme and is returning all payments received.’

The move puts pressure on others to follow suit. Barratt Developments, with 5,500 staff furloughed, made £910million in annual profits and is keeping its use of the money ‘under review’. McDonald’s furloughed most of its 135,000 UK workers.

Others receiving aid include pub chains Wetherspoon and Greene King and clothing retailer Primark. 

British Airways has been criticised after furloughing 36,000 staff, and then announcing more than 12,000 job cuts.

  • More than 1m businesses have received loans through three support schemes in just over three months, says the Treasury. Some £42.9billion has been lent.