Chris Wootton says the Frasers Group - which owns Sports Direct, Jack Wills, Game and House of Fraser - had been preparing to reopen more than 800 UK stores on Monday, June 1, in accordance with the guidance that was published in the government’s “Covid-19 Recovery Strategy” two weeks ago.
On Monday, the government announced that although car dealerships and outdoor markets can reopen from the June 1, all other non-essential shops in England will reopen on June 15, as long as they are able to comply with social distancing and hygiene standards.
Wootton says he’s “extremely irritated” by what he perceives as a delay.
“We actually think that the whole Dominic Cummings fiasco over the weekend has made [the government] hesitant to act decisively, so they've clearly pushed [reopening] back to the 15th of June,“ Wootton told ITV News.
“We are ready to go,” he insisted, “we’ve installed screens on the tills, stickers on the floors, posters on the walls.
"We’ve drawn-up thorough risk assessments, organised outside queuing and sanitising stations and sourced gloves and masks for our staff.”
It’s easy to understand why retailers like Sports Direct are so eager for high streets to open up again.
The British Retail Consortium calculates that the lockdown is costing traditional “bricks and mortar” non-food retailers £1.8 billion a week in lost sales, despite an sharp increase in their online revenues.
Wootton claims that reopening on June 15 instead of June 1 will be extremely costly for Frasers Group and will “definitely put some businesses out of business”.
“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.
Wootton says he is expressing views that are shared by Mike Ashley, who owns a majority stake in Frasers Group.
Wootton is critical of the general approach the government has taken to drawing-up the guidelines and the way it has communicated them to retailers.
“We really can’t see the difference between a car showroom and a retail store, particularly a big retail store,” Wootton says.
“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.”
In March, Mike Ashley issued a public apology after trying to keep his Sports Direct chain open when the government ordered non-essential retailers to close.
He may dislike the government’s guidance for the unlocking of the retail sector but Wootton promises that Sports Direct will comply with it.
“We did write, at the start of this crisis, to the government for clarification on whether we should stay open.
"Instead, Micheal 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,” Wootton says.
“Perhaps Gove should consider whether he should resign.”
The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy insists that the guidelines are clear, that there is no delay and that shops are opening “in phases from 1st June” as set out in the original Covid-19 Recovery Strategy.
In which case Sports Direct is not alone in having been confused. New Look was also preparing to reopen its clothes shops on June 1 and Claire’s Accessories says it is “disappointed” not to be opening sooner than June 15.
That said, not everyone is feeling as bullish as Sports Direct.
Next has 500 stores in the UK, only 25 will reopen on June 15.
The vast majority of its 40,000 employees in the UK will remain furloughed until it judges that people are out and about shopping with confidence again.
Next believes that will take time.