Putman points finger at suppliers as rescue bid for Wilko fails

Despite numerous tempts to find a last-minute saviour Wilko looks set to disappear from the high street, ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills reports

When Wilko collapsed into administration almost five weeks ago there was hope that something could be salvaged.

The discount retailer is loss-making, sales are falling and the company has been losing ground to the likes of B&M and Home Bargains for several years.

There was not a stampede of interested buyers for the 400 shops and 12,500 staff but Doug Putman did step forward.

Putman, who rescued HMV from administration in 2019, expressed interest in taking on a scaled-down version of the company but the number of shops he hoped to purchase steadily diminished and, yesterday, he finally decided that he couldn’t make the numbers add up.

All Wilko stores will be closed by October. Credit: PA

Putman insists he had the financing in place for a deal and that he had the backing of the administrator, PwC, but negotiations ran into difficulties.

Large suppliers - among them Unilever and Procter & Gamble - appear to have been reluctant to support his proposed new business model, insisting on payment upfront for future deliveries of household goods.

"Some of Wilko’s largest suppliers were not nearly as supportive as would be required to run a chain this size," Putman told me via text. He declined our request for an interview.

Tonight Unilever and Procter and Gamble also declined to comment.

But failure to agree credit lines from suppliers for new stock was not the only problem Putman faced. He urgently needed to cut costs and struggled.

Wilko’s "SAP" supply chain operating system was built to service a network of 400 shops.

Putman wanted to retain a smaller number of shops and to move them onto his own IT system but the contracts Wilko had signed locked the company into existing arrangements for up to four months - at a cost of £1 million a week. 

Andy Prendergast, National Secretary of the GMB, has been in regular contact with Putman over the last few weeks.

"Putman appeared to have experience and pedigree," Prendergast told ITV News.

"His was a genuine attempt to get a deal over the line. The real damage was done over the last decade by the Wilkinson family - they ran Wilko into the ground." 

More than 10,000 jobs will be lost. Credit: PA

The GMB is calling for MPs to hold an inquiry into why Wilko went bust.

Doug Putman’s bid was the only one that would have preserved jobs and saved Wilko as an independent company. 

PwC is still talking to The Range and Poundland about taking on some other shop leases and the sale of the Wilko brand and the website but the process of winding-up the business will now begin.

Warehouse stock will be sold and not replenished. 

PwC has confirmed that the distribution centres in Worksop and Newport will close on Friday.

124 shops will close "on or before Thursday 21st September," the remaining 222 will shut before early October.

The vast majority of 12,500 staff will now be made redundant at some point.

Tonight, Zelf Hussain, joint administrator praised the way Wilko’s workforce had responded to weeks of uncertainty.

In a statement, Hussain said: "The dedication shown by all team members during this period has been hugely humbling and we are grateful for the patience and understanding they have shown.

"As with those who have already been given notice of redundancy, we will guide and support those team members impacted over the coming weeks through the redundancy claims process."

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