• Emma Walsh

Primark owner to hand back £72m in furlough funds after record sales

The owner of Primark is to hand back £72m in furlough payments to the UK government after record sales at its newly reopened stores in England and Wales last week as shoppers sought out summer fashions for the return to socialising.


Associated British Foods, which owns the cut-price clothing and homewares retailer, said more than half the stores broke their own sales records, with many offering extended opening hours. Large queues formed outside some shops before 7am on 12 April, following a three-month closure under the latest coronavirus lockdown.


The retailer, which does not trade online, said it had taken a £3bn hit to sales and lost £1bn of profit in the past 12 months because of the pandemic, but that all of its 65,000 jobs globally were saved thanks to job retention schemes in the UK and Europe.


ABF intends to repay £121m in government support for this year, including £72m to the UK government, following the reopening of shops.


The retailer is paying back the cash despite a 90% slump in profits to £43m in the six months to 27 February, when sales fell by 40% to £2.2bn. Like-for-like sales were down 6% in the UK and 20% in the eurozone over the half year.


George Weston the Chief Executive: said shoppers appeared to be far more confident about returning to the high street this month than they had been last summer or in the winter, with sales of cosmetics and women’s fashions, including heels, handbags, T-shirts and gingham dresses, selling well for the first time in over a year.


City centre stores in Birmingham, Manchester and London had recovered much more than after previous lockdowns.


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