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Frasers Group brands Government's retail re-opening plans a "shambles"

Lauretta Roberts
26 May 2020

Frasers Group finance chief Chris Wootton has slammed the Government's non-essential retail re-opening plans and accused ministers of delaying the re-opening due to the Dominic Cummings scandal.

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated that non-essential retailers would be able to open in a phased manner from 1 June, prompting many retailers to work towards a re-opening on that date.

This weekend in the midst of the scandal surrounding revelations that the Prime Minister's special adviser Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown, Boris Johnson revealed that, in fact, only outdoor markets and car showrooms could open next week with other non-essential retailers having to wait until 15 June.

Wootton told ITV News this evening: “We actually think that the whole Dominic Cummings fiasco over the weekend has made them hesitant to act decisively, so they've clearly pushed it back to the 15th of June."

He added that the group, which controls Sports Direct, House of Fraser, Flannels, Evans Cycles, USC and, was "ready to go" from 1 June and said a further two-week delay would spell the end for some retailers.

“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," Wootton said.

The British Retail Consortium has estimated that every week of closure is costing the non-food retail industry £1.8 billion in lost sales, in spite of an increase in online sales. Some retailers have also complained that they had taken staff out of furlough for a 1 June opening and pointed out that the next quarterly rent payment is due at the end of June, giving them just two weeks of trade to contribute towards the quarter's rent bill, instead of the hoped-for one month.

We really can’t see the difference between a car showroom and a retail store, particularly a big retail store,” Wootton told the broadcaster. “Off-licences are open but sporting goods retailers are not. No one knows what the hell is going on and it’s a complete shambles.”

This morning Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove took to the television to warn consumers that the post-lockdown retail experience would be a very different one and told them they would no longer be able to try on clothes or test beauty products.

Some retailers already had plans in place to open fitting rooms on request, quarantine any tried-on stock for 24 hours and clean fitting rooms after each use. Gove's comments have thrown these plans into question by suggesting that all fitting rooms must remain closed.

Wootton accused Gove of using his television appearance as a bid to deflect attention away from the Cummings scandal, which appears to be dominating the Government's time at present.

Fast fashion chain New Look has also expressed its disappointment that stores cannot re-open from 1 June but other retailers are taking the re-opening slowly to test out new social distancing measures and to assess whether the appetite is there among shoppers to hit the stores again.

John Lewis has said it will begin to open some of its 50 stores from 15 June while Next, which operates 500 stores across the UK and Ireland, only plans to open 25 from that date.

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