The Range urged to hand back millions of pounds in Covid-19 Government grants

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Discount retailer The Range is facing calls to repay millions of pounds of taxpayers' money which it has saved during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Launched in 1989, The Range has grown into a major national retailer, and its founder, Plymouth entrepreneur Chris Dawson, into one of the richest men in the country, with an estimated wealth of more than £2billion.

Having kept most of its 180 stores open through the pandemic, The Range is believed to have saved around £36million from the Government's 'business rates holiday', introduced last spring to help struggling firms forced to close as a result of Covid-19.

While other retail chains such as Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Lidl, Tesco and B&M have chosen to repay the money to the Treasury, The Range has not, saying it is using the savings to invest in stores, staff and future growth.

Retail expert Bill Grimsey, former CEO of Iceland, said: "Tesco and the public companies recognise that from a morality point of view it was the wrong thing to do, the Government should never have done it, it was the government's fault and they have handed it back.

"Then you've got the private companies like The Range which have decided to stay quiet and pocket the money, and it's a considerable sum of money in certain cases. It's public money, it's free, and they shouldn't be accepting it on moral grounds."

Former market trader Chris Dawson founded The Range in 1989. Credit: ITV News

In a statement, The Treasury said the rates holiday provided a lifeline to businesses, delivered certainty and protected jobs.

They added: "We've been clear throughout the pandemic that businesses should use our support appropriately, and we welcome any decision to repay support where it is no longer needed."

The Range is under no legal obligation to repay the money, but the company's latest financial statement says trading has been strong through the pandemic and it expects to see 'significant growth' in 2021, with healthy cash reserves.

A spokesperson for the company said: "The rates holiday provided by the government gave The Range the confidence (at the time it was announced) to invest in our stores and additional staff to ensure they were Covid secure whilst trading throughout the pandemic to date.

"The rates initiative has helped to offset the costs involved in achieving this. The Range is planning to use the majority of the profits generated this year to invest in future growth and to create 2,700 new jobs in the UK during the next 12 months."

The Range says it has invested the money in growth and job creation. Credit: ITV News

Some experts are urging the Government to adjust its approach and do more to support small businesses at risk of folding.

Jerry Schurder, head of business rates at Gerald Eve property consultants, said: "If you think about all the other sectors and the rest of the economy who have not been able to trade, they have incurred costs and are having no income as a direct consequence of the pandemic.

"So I think if the Government decides it's going to continue with the relief from the first of April, which I hope it does, I think it's going to take a more targeted approach and to exclude certain sectors and probably essential retail would be excluded from any continuation of the rates holiday."

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