Gro­cers didn’t need busi­ness rates cut, says JD Sports boss

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Laura Onita and Si­mon Foy

THE boss of JD Sports has heav­ily crit­i­cised min­is­ters for hand­ing a busi­ness rates cut to su­per­mar­kets and other stores which stayed open dur­ing lock­down, say­ing the cash should have been used to cut re­tail rents in­stead.

Peter Cowgill took a swipe at gro­cers be­cause he said they “have had the ben­e­fit of higher turnover and higher mar­gin” due to panic buy­ing, while also get­ting rates re­lief as part of emer­gency mea­sures to pre­vent eco­nomic col­lapse.

Su­per­mar­kets were among chains deemed es­sen­tial and al­lowed to con­tinue op­er­at­ing when Bri­tain shut down at the height of the pan­demic, but still saved mil­lions of pounds from the high street-wide tax break, with a £532m boost for Tesco alone.

Mean­while, re­tail land­lords are strug­gling be­cause many ten­ants have been un­able to af­ford rent. With no state sup­port, th­ese prop­erty own­ers are push­ing oc­cu­piers to pay up.

Mr Cowgill has been on a rent rene­go­ti­a­tion cru­sade for his shops af­ter JD Sports was forced to shut al­most all of its stores around the world due to lock­downs, los­ing out on sales.

Shop­ping centre owner Intu has al­ready tum­bled into ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter run­ning out of money, and a swathe of weaker ten­ants have rene­go­ti­ated their bills. The re­tail chief, who has run

JD Sports since 2004, said that some of the rate re­lief cash could have been di­verted to com­mer­cial land­lords.

Mr Cowgill, the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, said: “That money could have been used for the vast ma­jor­ity of land­lords, who could then re­align their rents for their ten­ants. As a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the stronger re­tail­ers who at­tract foot­fall, I’m tired of sit­ting next door to oc­cu­pants who are pay­ing 30-40pc less for the same box be­cause they have a lease break or an ex­piry, or have gone through an in­sol­vency process.

“There has to be a re­align­ment. Stronger ten­ants shouldn’t be sub­si­dis­ing the weaker ten­ants.”

The FTSE 100 re­tailer, which be­gan re­open­ing its stores in some coun­tries in April, can­celled its fi­nal div­i­dend de­spite re­port­ing a 3pc rise in pre-tax profit to £348.5m for the year to the end of Fe­bru­ary. Shares edged down 6.2p to end at 668.4p.

Peter Cowgill, the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of JD Sports, was forced to shut nearly all the firm’s stores

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