// Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group accuses Debenhams’ advisers of blocking it from sale process
// Debenhams says all interested parties are being asked to sign an NDA to protect “commercially sensitive information”
Frasers Group has accused Debenhams’ advisers of stopping it from making a bid for the department store chain.
Frasers Group chief financial officer Chris Wootton told The Times that Mike Ashley’s retail firm was not formally involved in the sale process because it refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
The NDA would reportedly prevent Frasers from talking to Debenhams’ landlords for 18 months.
“We feel, once again, we have been locked out of the process. Restricting a willing buyer from being involved in the sale will clearly result in a negative impact on the price of Debenhams,” Wootton told The Times.
“We are not going to buy a business without knowing how stores are performing. We have a track record of buying businesses and we are the most likely party to save jobs.”
Debenhams sources speaking to The Times said there was a concern Ashley’s retail empire could use confidential data to negotiate separate deals with landlords, in order to pick and choose the best Debenhams stores.
“All participants in the process have been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which is standard in a situation like this where commercially sensitive information may need to be shared,” a Debenhams spokesperson said.
“While the process is at an early stage, and there is no guarantee the business will be sold, there is an encouraging level of interest.”
According to Debenhams’ administrators, this would in turn reduce the value of the business for creditors.
Lazard is currently managing the sale of the historic department store chain, with speculation that Next and a Chinese consortium have also considered the opportunity.
Debenhams permanently shut down 20 stores and slashed an estimated 6500 jobs since the pandemic gripped the UK in March.
Before lockdown, Debenhams had around 140 stores and was in the midst of a CVA restructure, which it launched after the first administration.
In April, Debenhams entered a second administration, although this time it is being described as a “light touch” administration, meaning directors are still running the retailer.
Last month, restructuring firm Hilco Capital was drafted in to work on “contingency plans” for Debenhams, should a sale or any other rescue be unsuccessful and it falls into liquidation – a last resort that would place more than 12,000 jobs at risk.
On Friday Debenhams chairman Mark Gifford spoke out against speculation that the department store was on the brink of collapse and insisted trading has been better than expected since lockdown ended.