Boots’ US owner has withdrawn over $5.3bn of dividends from its UK holding firms, even though it received hundreds of millions of pounds of government pandemic support cash.
The high street chemist’s UK-based parent company, Superior Holdings, coughed up $4.1bn in dividends to Walgreens last year, in addition to paying out a $909.6m dividend the year prior, The Times reported.
What’s more, another UK-situated holding firm, WBA Financial, another UK-based holding company, also dished out a $353m dividend last year.
It comes as Boots was the recipient of some £36m financial support to furlough staff who could not work during Covid lockdowns.
The business also received some £11m in PPE grants and £55m in business rates relief with an estimate from Altus placing the chemist’s annual rates bill at £149m, suggesting the firm received hundreds of millions of support in total.
The dividends had not come “directly or indirectly” from Boots UK, a Walgreens spokesperson told the newspaper.
Drawing out cash from government emergency funds amid the pandemic helped the firm protect jobs at an “extremely challenging and uncertain time”, they added.
The chemist, which its US owner is hoping to sell off shortly, slashed some 6,500 jobs during the pandemic.
Landlords were irked by the dividend news as Boots had used a moratorium on evictions to withhold rents.
Adam Coffer, chairman of the Property Owners Forum, told The Times: “Walgreens claimed it couldn’t meet its contractual obligations to property owners but it looks like we have bankrolled its huge dividends.”
It has been speculated that the chemist’s deadline for proposals is fast approaching, with Sky News previously reporting Walgreens had set a deadline of 16 May for bids.
It is hoping to sell the pharmacy chain for around £7bn, although a consortium made up of private equity titans CVC and Bain withdrew from the race after admitting they would only be willing to cough up £4bn for it.
Suitors who have thrown their hat in the ring and may potentially make a bid are thought to include private equity firms Apollo, TDR Capital and Sycamore.