Practice confirms government handout will be fully repaid this month

Thomas heatherwick credit elena heatherwick lr web

Heatherwick Studio has said it is repaying all the money it received from the government as part of the furlough scheme.

The practice, whose founder Thomas Heatherwick was paid nearly £6m in dividends in the past two years, confirmed it would have paid back all the furlough cash by the end of this month.

But despite repeated requests it refused to reveal the size of the hand-out it had received or how many staff it had furloughed.

In a statement issued to Building Design the firm said: “Heatherwick Studio made use of the government’s furlough scheme when it was first available. There was initially a great deal of uncertainty about how our industry would be impacted and our priority was to protect studio members and our projects. As the year progressed we took the decision to repay the money received through the scheme back to the Treasury.”

The spokesperson added: “I’m afraid we aren’t able to provide any information or figures regarding furloughed staff, but can confirm that we are in the process of the repayment and the final payment is expected to be finalised this month.”

According to official figures, 30% of the UK workforce, or 8.9 million people, were accessing the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) at its peak in May. It allowed firms to furlough staff and claim a grant covering up to 80% of their wages as the pandemic hit workloads. The scheme, one of several designed to prevent a wave of redundancies and bankruptcies, has cost the Treasury around £40 billion. Overall more than £100bn has been spent on support for jobs, the Treasury said this month.

Heatherwick, which employs more than 200 staff, is the latest firm to pay back its furlough money.

Foster & Partners was one of the first architects to do this, making its announcement in November – and revealing it was paying back around £500,000.

The practice said it furloughed around 70 staff at the start of lockdown in March last year because they were unable to work from home. It also asked staff to take a temporary 20% paycut. But by the end of the autumn it said it had repaid both the wages and around half a million pounds in furlough money after finding itself “in a healthier financial position than predicted”.

In the wider construction sector, Morgan Sindall said last year it was paying back £9.3m, while housebuilder Redrow pledged to pay back £8m after furloughing 1,700 staff, as did Taylor Wimpey.

Others argued firms had been too quick to take the furlough money and put projects on hold, with serious knock-on effects further down the supply chain. Brendan Kilpatrick, senior partner at PRP, likened it to abandoning ship at the first sight of an iceberg.

Last month Heatherwick Studio was widely ridiculed on social media after a job ad was published for a personal assistant to “manage Thomas Heatherwick’s personal life alongside studio related tasks”. Among the key responsibilities it listed were making sure Heatherwick was on time for personal and professional engagements, with daily travel packs and the appropriate equipment, as well as managing the completion of a building project at his house, managing his nanny and housekeeper, assisting with his children’s schedules, remembering birthdays, organising holidays, buying gifts and personal items and “any ad hoc tasks that Thomas may require, eg vehicle maintenance, going to the tailor, making a fancy-dress costume”.