Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley has said he is "deeply apologetic" for a series of blunders in the way his chain has reacted to the coronavirus lockdown.
The retailer lobbied the government to keep his shops open, arguing they were an "essential service", but backed down after a backlash from staff and media.
Mr Ashley, who owns Newcastle United, admitted his request was "ill judged and poorly timed" and said he would "learn from his mistakes".
The retail tycoon also offered to lend the NHS his delivery trucks.
In an open letter, Mr Ashley also admitted the firm's communications to staff and the public were "poor".
"I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days. We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future," he said.Copyright: Getty Images
- Copyright: Getty Images
Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley has apologised to the government after saying its shops should stay open during the coronavirus lockdown.
He agreed to close its high street stores earlier this week in a U-turn, having previously argued that the company provided an essential service and should stay open.
In an open letter, he said he was “deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days”.
He added: "Our intentions were only to seek clarity from the government as to whether we should keep some of our stores open. We would never have acted against their advice.”
Mr Ashley also said that his Frasers Group would offer its entire fleet of lorries to help deliver medical equipment and supplies for the NHS and other key workforces.
Sports Direct founder and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has apologised for "ill-judged and poorly timed" emails to the government and poor communication with employees and the public in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
In an open letter, the majority owner of Frasers Group also said he has offered the company's "entire fleet of lorries" to the NHS to help deliver medical supplies and equipment.
It comes after the businessman faced fierce criticism from MPs after he tried to claim Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit, before performing a U-turn and closing his stores.Copyright: BBC
Frasers Group - which rebranded from Sports Direct International last year - faced further scorn after its finance chief wrote a letter to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on Wednesday in an attempt to defend its position.
In the new letter, Mr Ashley said: "Our intentions were only to seek clarity from the government as to whether we should keep some of our stores open; we would never have acted against their advice.
"In hindsight, our emails to the government were ill-judged and poorly timed, when they clearly had much greater pressures than ours to deal with.
"On top of this, our communications to our employees and the public on this was poor.
"To reiterate, I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days. We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future."
Sports Direct and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley (pictured) and Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin must explain to Parliament how they will be protecting staff during the coronavirus crisis, by the end of the week, the chairman of the Business Select Committee has said.
Rachel Reeves, who chairs the committee, said it is "crucial that companies such as Sports Direct and JD Wetherspoons do all they can to ensure their workers are properly protected and get the pay to which they are entitled".
The move comes as Mr Ashley's Frasers Group wrote to Cabinet minister Michael Gove in an attempt to get the government to agree with its position.
Both Frasers Group and Wetherspoons have faced heavy criticism over their handling of staff welfare, with conflicting messages over pay and working hours.Copyright: BBC
- Copyright: Mulberry
Mike Ashley is back on the acquisition trail, but this time he's got his eye on Mulberry.
His Frasers Group has today snapped up 12.5% of the luxury group.
The company said: "A key strategic priority for Frasers Group is the elevation of our retail proposition and building stronger relationships with premium third party brands.
"Frasers Group looks forward to working more closely with Mulberry for the benefit of shareholders of both companies."
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley is in ongoing talks with two other potential buyers amid claims that a Saudi consortium is close to a deal, the PA news agency understands.
The Sports Direct owner’s representatives are understood to be continuing takeover negotiations with both parties despite the emergence over the weekend of details of a £340m proposal funded in large part by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.
The Wall Street Journal reported the Saudi group, spearheaded by Amanda Staveley and backed in the main by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's immense wealth, had been in discussions with Ashley.
Fresh details have emerged since, outlining the structure of the bid – the Reuben brothers, David and Simon, are said to be partners, while businessman Yasir Al-Rumayyan would reportedly be installed as chairman at St James' Park - with reports claiming an agreement is "90%" likely to be reached.Copyright: Getty Images
With sources close to the sportswear tycoon having indicated talks with other prospective buyers are continuing, he appears to be challenging the Saudis to make a decisive move.
Many Newcastle United fans who have hoped to see the back of Mr Ashley for much of his tenure at the club, are sceptical in the wake of failed attempts by Staveley's PCP Capital Partners, former Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon and the Bin Zayed Group to buy the club.
Amnesty International's response to news of the latest Staveley-led approach has added further complexities to a long-running saga.
Amnesty's UK head of campaigns Felix Jakens branded the reported move as "sportswashing" and an attempt to deflect attention from Saudi Arabia's "abysmal" human rights record - a political issue which might come into play if and when Premier League approval were to be sought.
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There's a warm welcome in prospect for Mike Ashley outside House of Fraser in London where anti-fur protestors are currently waiting for his arrival.
They're complaining about the use of fur at House of Fraser.
The campaigners are from a coalition of animal welfare charities such as Open Cages and Peta.
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“Can Sports Direct really elevate itself from the ‘pile them high, sell them cheap’ approach which has characterised Mike Ashley’s retail style to date?" asks Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.
He reckons there are some "encouraging signs" in today's first half results but warns that a change of name to Frasers won't be the solution.
"It will take more than a surface level rebranding to set the business on a new path," he says.
"Ashley will have to walk a tightrope to ensure he does nothing to undermine his premium brands which, after all, are what allow you to charge higher prices for products.
“He has already attracted some criticism for filling House of Fraser stores with discount goods and sportswear.
"Once you lose the shoppers prepared to pay for high end goods it could be a tough ask to win them back.”
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Mike Ashley has used today's Sports Direct results as an opportunity to attack Jeremy Corbyn.
The outgoing Labour leader focused heavily on attacking Mr Ashley and other rich businessmen throughout the election campaign.
Mr Ashley said: "Mr Corbyn attacked our business during the election campaign, but he really should have checked his facts as he really was shown to be 'clueless'.
"He clearly has zero awareness of the fact we are one of the very few groups, and also one of the first, to have a workers representative as a statutory director of the group."
The chief executive also added that a planned meeting with shareholders from advisory group Pirc was scrapped due to Jeremy Corbyn making "it completely untenable for anyone associated in any way with the Labour Party - or any of its key supporters and supporting organisations - to be allowed access to such key and confidential meetings and the information divulged within them."
He also took the opportunity to criticise a number of other people as The Times' retail editor tweeted...
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Mike Ashley's retailing group Sports Direct has reported a rise in half-year profit and revenues, helped by improvements at House of Fraser's premium lifestyle brand.
The company also said that the €674m bill from Belgium's tax authority, which it revealed in July, would not lead to "material liabilities", adding it would find a resolution soon.
Sports Direct reported a 160% rise in pre-tax profits to £193.4m for the six months to 27 October. although that was flattered by the sale and leaseback of the Shirebrook distribution centre. Underlying profits were up 58% to £101.8m.
Group revenues rose 14% to £2.04bn.