Tesco large store

Tesco has bowed to intense pressure and pledged to repay the £585m of business rates relief it received to cope with the outbreak of Covid-19 (The Times £).

Tesco, which said “every penny” of the rates relief had been spent on responding to the pandemic, added that in making the repayment it was “conscious of our responsibilities to society” (The Guardian).

The supermarket says tax break is still dwarfed by the amount it has spent making its stores Covid secure (The Telegraph).

As one of the UK’s largest ratepayers, the group was a big beneficiary of a year-long business rates holiday announced in March and had previously defended its decision to accept this relief (The Financial Times £).

Having been able to remain open throughout the pandemic, Tesco has regularly seen its stores brimming with queues of shoppers snapping up essentials (The Mail).

Nils Pratley in The Guardian says where Tesco leads others must follow. ”Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, B&M and co must decide whether to return the chancellor’s gifts,” he writes.

Supermarkets have a moral duty to repay their tax breaks, The Telegraph’s Ben Marlow says. ”Tesco has handed back its £585m business rates relief, but it is wrongly clinging to the claim the windfall was deserved.”

The Lombard column in The Financial Times (£) says that for all the good intentions on show, it’s hard not to be cynical about the timing coming after Tesco’s pending multibillion pound sale in Asia.

The Times (£) says that supermarkets couldn’t ignore public anger, with Tesco chiefs realising popular opinion had turned against them.

Alistair Osborne in The Times (£) writes that Tesco should be applauded for finally coming to its senses and handing back Rishi Sunak’s ill-judged business rates freebie. “It’s a U-turn all right, but a highly welcome one.”

Guilt-free meat has moved closer to consumer reality after Singapore became the first country to approve a lab-grown product (The Financial Times £). The Singapore Food Agency on Wednesday said the chicken made by US start-up Eat Just met its safety standards for use in nuggets, paving the way for a commercial launch in the Asian city-state.

High-street food chain Leon has launched a restructuring deal aimed at slashing rental costs across its sites in a bid to stay afloat (The Mail).

England’s high streets were back in business on Wednesday – but shoppers returned slowly, with queues outside only a few stores such as Primark and Debenhams, which had announced it was going into liquidation the day before (The Guardian).

The fashion retailer Bonmarché has fallen into administration for the second time in a year as the Covid crisis among high street retailers continues to mount (The Guardian).

The business secretary, Alok Sharma, has asked the insolvency watchdog to examine whether the conduct of directors at Sir Philip Green’s fashion empire led to problems for the group’s pension fund (The Guardian).

The Mail investigates the role of former Debenhams chief executive Rob Templeman in the collapse of the department store chain in a story headlined “242-year chain never recovered from brutal private equity era”. ”Templeman and the band of buyout barons who took control of Debenhams for a brief but brutal period, certainly have questions to answer about whether their reign sowed the seeds for the demise of the much-loved department store.”

Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has sold £5m worth of shares in his pub chain just days after warning new coronavirus restrictions will keep almost half his sites shut (The Mail).