The boss of JD Group, Peter Cowgill, has been handed almost £6m in bonuses since February last year despite the company accepting more than £100m in government support.
The owner of JD Sports, Millets and Black Leisure, and a string of overseas sportswear chains, accepted £86.1m in furlough payments for staff and an estimated £38m in business rates relief last year.
Cowgill voluntarily took a 75% cut in his basic pay – which fell to £700,000 – for several months during the pandemic. His annual bonus was also reduced from £1.7m to £1.3m.
However, the retail veteran banked £3m during the year from a special bonus, half of which was paid in February 2020; a further £1.5m, which had originally been due for payment in October 2020, was paid in January this year.
It is understood that a further £1.5m was paid just a month later, in February this year.
JD finished its financial year with almost £800m in the bank, as its profits were shored up by bumper lockdown demand for trainers and hoodies. Its profits topped £420m before one-off costs from sales that were up slightly over the year at £6.2bn.
The retailer has already been criticised for restarting dividend payments to shareholders while retaining the government pandemic financial support.
In April, after revealing that it was paying out £14m to shareholders, the Labour MP and tax campaigner Margaret Hodge said the emergency support schemes were supposed to save businesses and “certainly not intended to pay generous dividends”.
As the bonus payments to Cowgill were published, she added: “This is taxpayers’ money and it is not there to fill executives’ pockets with millions of pounds.”
The finance director, Neil Greenhalgh, received £871,000 in total pay for the year to January, up from £853,000 a year before as he collected nearly £560,000 in bonuses.
Andrew Leslie, the head of JD’s remuneration committee, said the bonuses were “reflective of the sustained outstanding performance of the group”.
He added: “The posting of exceptional results during such a challenging climate demonstrates that the remuneration approach and steps taken throughout the pandemic continue to support and drive this performance.”
The company’s annual report, published on Thursday, said both executives’ pay remained at the lower end of their peer group in the FTSE 100.
About 31% of shareholders voted against JD’s remuneration report last year, and the pay committee said it was responding to that shareholder protest by paying future long-term bonuses partly in shares.
JD said the pandemic support had helped the company to retain staff: the group now employs 22,336 people, 450 more than in February 2020.
The company said in a statement: “Government support was accepted in locations where it was offered, with the primary purpose of retaining the thousands of retail jobs which were at risk during the period of prolonged store closure. This government support fulfilled its purpose as the group has not made redundancies on a large scale and the vast majority of jobs have been retained.
“Against this background, the board and remuneration committee decided it is appropriate to reinstate the payment of dividends while also returning to more normal levels of pay for executive and senior team members. In comparison with previous years, the executive chairman has received a reduced bonus level this year.”