Coronavirus: Sports Direct CFO calls for more support for ailing retailers

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Further government support is needed to prevent more high street retailers from going out of business, Sports Direct’s chief financial officer has said.

Speaking to Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Chris Wootton warned that without support, “many more retailers will go to the wall”.

“The high street has been in turmoil for some time and it needs all the help it can get,” Mr Wootton said.

“I will credit the government on the business rates relief that we got, but that is something that needs to be looked at more permanently to help save the high street, because business rates are a key issue in doing that,” he continued.

Sports Direct is due to reopen its shops on 15 June, following government guidance. It will introduce protective screens, sanitisation stations, and safety signs, Wootton said.

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Wootton has previously described the government’s plans to reopen shops as a “shambles”. Elaborating on this he said: “They have been very vague on their guidance.

“I think privately and publicly retailers were expecting to open on June 1. I have been very public in our views that the Dominic Cummings fiasco led to the Government panicking and pushing that back.”

The company came under fire in March when its CEO, Mike Ashley, tried to claim it was an essential operator and therefore stores should stay open.

He later changed his line on this, apologising for “ill-judged and poorly timed” emails and poor communication.

Wootten denied this was the case, saying: “I’d like to correct you on that, we were just asking for guidance from the Government as to whether we should stay open.

“Michael Gove decided to go on Piers Morgan in the morning (ITV’s Good Morning Britain show) and try and use us as a political football. It does seem to be one rule for us, and another for others.”

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Retailers have been struggling amid coronavirus lockdowns. Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO said its monthly High Street Sales Tracker (HSST) found total like-for-like sales, consisting of both in-store and non-store (online) sales, declined by 18.3% in May - the second worst result on record after April’s 29.6% decline.

Britain went into lockdown on March 23 to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, with all retail stores deemed "non essential" forced to close.