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Frasers exec slams government, says reopening delay could ruin some retailers

Published
May 27, 2020
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Frasers Group finance chief Chris Wootton has slammed the UK government for its handling of the coronavirus crisis and store reopening plans from a business viewpoint as a two-week opening delay means more lost sales. He also suggested that the scandal linked to whether or not the PM’s adviser Dominic Cummings broke the lockdown rules he helped to draft has delayed the reopening date for non-essential stores.


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In an interview with ITV News, Wootton also said that many retailers may be “on the edge of going out of existence.”

He questioned why earlier announcements that non-essential stores could open from June 1 had been forgotten, saying: “The government clearly said they were going to start phasing opening from the first of June if the science allowed them to. We actually think that the whole Dominic Cummings fiasco over the weekend has made them hesitant to act decisively and made them more cautious, so they've pushed it back to the 15th of June.”

Wootton believes the government is sending out mixed messages and can’t understand why retailers such as car showrooms will be allowed to open two weeks earlier than other large stores.

His interview came as analyst Sofie Willmott at GlobalData said that the additional two weeks will mean extra losses for stores.

“Non-essential retailers whose stores have been closed for almost 10 weeks already, now cannot open until mid-June resulting in another two weeks of missed sales and two weeks less to clear through summer stock, which has already been off limits for a significant chunk of its selling period,” she said. 

“The warm weather in recent weeks would have been the ideal opportunity for clothing & footwear retailers to sell through their spring/summer ranges, but stores being shut for a longer period than anticipated will add to the swathes of discounting we can expect when branches reopen. Clothing & footwear is set to be the sector hardest hit by Covid-19 with offline clothing & footwear spend set to plummet over 40% this year.”

At the same time, Helen Dickinson, the British Retail Consortium’s chief executive, said that “with sales expected to remain weak, even as shops begin to reopen, many retailers will still be in a fight for survival.”

Wootton echoed these sentiments in the ITV interview, saying that “there will be retailers that are on the edge of going out of existence, that an extra couple of weeks will put some under for sure because they are that close to the edge. It's still going to cost us millions of pounds in lost sales and unnecessary costs for this lack of guidance. I think it will definitely put some out of business. I think if you are a retailer that is living on the edge of your credit line and you’ve basically got no cash left, every day is essential.”

He also said that government ministers have not got strength of convictions, they don’t even follow their own rules, the only one with any credibility who has carried out anything even remotely worthwhile is the chancellor.”

And addressing criticism levelled at the firm earlier in the lockdown when it tried to keep its stores open, he added: “We did write, at the start of this crisis, to the government for clarification on whether we should stay open and instead [senior minister] Michael Gove decided to go on breakfast television the next morning and use us as a political football to divert attention from their own lack of ability in handling this crisis”.

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