Sports Direct bosses clash with Government once again

Frasers Group, which owns Sports Direct and Evans Cycles, asked the Government on Monday whether the stores should stay open following Boris Johnson’s announcement that all non-essential retail outlets should close, it has emerged.

The detail has been revealed in a letter from Frasers Group finance boss Chris Wootton to Home Secretary Michael Gove, in which Wootton demands answers to series of questions from the Government.

It outlines that Wootton spoke to Gove on Wednesday morning, but that Gove asked him to put his questions in a letter. Wootton asks whether Gove thought it was “proper” that Frasers Group asked the Government in advance on Monday as to whether Sports Direct and Evans Cycles should remain open during the coronavirus; whether Evans Cycles should open, with the appropriate social distancing in place and questions the importance of cycling in keeping the public fit; and if Evans stores were to open whether Frasers should only use employees who volunteer to work.

In a testy missive, Wootton says that keeping any stores open at the moment is “completely uncommercial” for Frasers.

The letter goes on: “We emphatically do care about our staff. This is most obviously demonstrated in the current trying circumstances by the fact that we offered the vast majority of employees who were in the categories designated as being vulnerable by the Government to stop coming to work and go home on full pay until further notice. Furthermore we voluntarily went further and sought to extend the designated category of the vulnerable to those over 60.”

Wootton also offers up the Fraser Group’s fleet of lorries to deliver supplies for the NHS.

The letter comes after a week when Sports Direct came under fire for at first insisting it would stay open after the Prime Minister said all non-essential retail outlets should close to try and stop the spread of coronavirus – along with Evans Cycles – because it deemed itself important in keeping the nation fit during a lockdown.

Meanwhile, it has also emerged that the chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Rachel Reeves MP, has written to Mike Ashley, who owns Sports Direct and Evans Cycles – as well as House of Fraser and Newcastle United, asking as series of questions.

They are:

How many staff will be designated as “furloughed workers” and therefore able to receive 80% of their wages through the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme;
• The proportion of staff designated as “furloughed workers” on full-time, part-time and zerohours contracts;
• The amount that Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Newcastle United will contribute towards
the remaining 20% of staff wages under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme;
• The number of staff who will be made redundant;
• Confirmation that Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Newcastle United will continue to pay the wages of staff in full until the funding from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme becomes available;
• Whether any extra staff taken on for deliveries will be paid the National Living Wage;
• The measures taken in Sports Direct and House of Fraser warehouses to ensure workers are
safe, including the provision of handwash and hand sanitiser, sufficient distance between coworkers, and the cleaning of workspaces.

The MP has asked for all questions to be answered by this Friday (27 March).