‘Taking government money and giving it to shareholders isn’t what it’s designed for,’ says John Morgan

Morgan Sindall chief executive John Morgan has said quoted firms receiving furlough money from the government should not be using it to help pay out dividends.

Chief executive John Morgan was speaking as the firm yesterday confirmed it has paid back the £9.5m it received under the initiative at the end of last month.

John Morgan

The firm furloughed 1,900 of its 6,700 staff, including nearly 700 people from its construction and infrastructure business and a further 600 from its partnership housing arm.

In August, the company said it was suspending its interim dividend but is now resuming payments to shareholders with a 21p per share dividend next month.

Morgan (pictured) said: “In this environment, paying out dividends when receiving government help is difficult. Taking government money because you need it is one thing. Taking it and giving it to shareholders isn’t what it’s designed for. If you’re doing that, the company probably didn’t need the money. [Furlough] is about protecting jobs. I think the government has been helpful to construction [during covid].”

He added the firm would not be using the latest extension of the furlough scheme, which was announced on Saturday evening when the prime minister said a fresh lockdown in England will begin today (Thursday).

It is being extended into December, having been due to finish on 31 October, but Morgan said: “It’s pretty irrelevant to construction. The government has made it clear that construction can continue.”

He said the firm has brought all staff back from furlough and did not need to furlough any more because of the new lockdown: “Even if we did have people to furlough, we wouldn’t claim it [the money] in the first place.”

In September, Redrow said it had turned its back on £8m of government furlough money because it could not justify taking taxpayers’ cash and then start paying out dividends to shareholders.

The housebuilder said it was entitled to the sum but has returned all payments it banked from the initiative.

Redrow furloughed around 80% of its 2,300 staff at the height of lockdown in April but executive chairman John Tutte said it was shouldering the cost of that itself.

He added: “[We were] still profitable and generating cash. It didn’t feel right to be taking government money when we could have afforded it. There was a moral dimension to it. We had suspended the payment of the dividend and we want to resume that. It didn’t seem right to be taking government money and resuming payments to shareholders.”

Earlier this week, Foster & Partners said it had returned the £500,000 it received from the government initiative for 70 staff it was forced to furlough during the first lockdown. The announcement came after the architect’s latest accounts revealed that its 154 partners shared a £31m bonus last year.