Guardian Media Group will voluntarily return £1.6m in furlough money to the government that was claimed during the early days of the pandemic to support the salaries of some staff.

The Guardian’s parent company said it would repay the funds in light of a substantially improved financial position.

Preliminary financial results released on Wednesday also show rapid growth in revenue from online readers, who came to the Guardian in record numbers during 2020.

The company said total revenues at the business were largely flat at £225m during the 2020-21 financial year but there were substantial shifts in how this money was generated.

While income from the Guardian’s print publications and advertising continued to fall, digital revenues from readers buying online subscriptions or making one-off contributions rose by 61% to £69m.

Well over half of the Guardian’s income comes directly from readers, despite the business declining to follow many of its equivalent publications and put up a paywall. Online revenues were also aided by strong growth at the company’s US and Australia editions.

Last summer, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the company announced substantial cost-cutting on the basis that the pandemic had created an “unsustainable financial outlook for the Guardian”. At the time revenue was forecast to be down by more than £25m on the budget.

Instead, after a round of redundancies and a rise in revenue during the latter part of the year driven by reader contributions, Guardian Media Group is now in a substantially better financial position.

Guardian Media Group is ultimately owned by the not-for-profit Scott Trust, which provides up to £30m of cash every year from its long-term investment funds to support the media business. One-off cost-cutting measures and better-than-expected revenue meant that this year the Guardian’s net cash outflow was only £16m.

This content first appear on the guardian

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