MP Esther McVey led a campaign calling for supermarkets to pay back millions of pounds saved in business rates and has praised Tesco for leading the way and hopes others will do the right thing and follow suit.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered a lifeline to thousands of businesses when he suspended business rates at the start of the pandemic, but the Tatton MP said the money was designed to protect shops on the high streets not line the pockets of supermarkets which remained open.
Last month she wrote to supermarket bosses calling for them to hand back the combined £1.9 billion of support they received from taxpayers, claiming it was “the right thing to do.”
Today Tesco announced it would pay £585 million it saved through the scheme.
Ms McVey said: “Back in March the government took bold steps to support businesses as the pandemic struck and the country went into lockdown. Generous schemes to help businesses and employees survive lockdown were devised at speed, distributed at pace and that was the right thing to do as financial support for businesses was crucial. The speed at which things needed to be sorted meant there were not time for exemptions or conditions so supermarkets were included in the scheme.
“Supermarkets remained open and prospered so it is right they should pay back the money saved. That is why I wrote to them and I am delighted with today’s announcement from Tesco and I hope others will follow their example.”
Tesco said the relief was a “game changer” at the time but said it would pay in full given its business was resilient and will now work with government officials to decide the best way to pay.
Ms McVey previously urged Government to claw back the money from supermarkets through a windfall tax if they refuse to pay up.
She said: “Supermarkets do not need the money and I hope others will come forward in the coming days. I want to see this money redistributed to small businesses in need and those people who fell through the cracks.
“I’ve always believed that if you don’t need government money you shouldn’t take it, for there are lots of vulnerable people who do. There may well come a time when you do need help and it’ll be good to know it’s there and not being taken by others who don’t need it.”
Ms McVey in her letter praised supermarket staff as being “frontline heroes” and thanked them for their work during the pandemic. She also expressed her disgust at the number of frequency of assaults on shop workers.