// Frasers Group slams Michael Gove after confirming it would not open its stores during English lockdown
// M&S also closing off more than half clothing & home selling space – more than initially thought – in food stores
// The government issued updated guidance on what “essential” retailers can sell within their stores
Frasers Group has confirmed it will not open any stores in England even if they are considered “essential retailers” while Marks & Spencer has been forced to shut off half of its clothing and home selling space in food stores.
The news comes after the government issued further guidance on which retailers are considered essential and what they are permitted to sell as England entered a second lockdown on Thursday.
Frasers Group – which is majority-owned by retail tycoon Mike Ashley and operates Sports Direct, Jack Wills, House of Fraser and Flannels – also launched a scathing attack on the UK Government, singling out cabinet minister Michael Gove.
- M&S clothing to “remain fully open” during second lockdown
- Mike Ashley drops out of Debenhams sale
- Frasers Group more than doubles stake in Mulberry to 29.7%
In a statement released to the stock market on Friday afternoon, Frasers Group said: “In England, stores closed from 5 November 2020 and are currently expected to reopen when current regulations expire after 28 days.
“The government finally updated mixed retail rules for England yesterday, Thursday 6 (sic) November 2020.
“We note inconsistencies remain and, given Michael Gove MP chose to perform a PR stunt on TV to deflect the public’s opprobrium on to Frasers Group at the start of the previous lockdown, we currently will not be opening any of our fascias in England, including those with mixed retail use that include ‘essential retail’.”
Ashley had planned to open Sports Direct stores during the UK-wide and stricter lockdown when it was first announced in late March, citing them as “essential” retailers.
The move prompted criticism from politicians and unions at the time, including Gove, and Ashley subsequently apologised for his actions.
However, Frasers Group would be able to open its chain of Evans Cycles stores during current lockdown in England after the government branded it as an “essential” retailer.
“In our opinion, based on the fact that, amongst other matters, the government has been unwilling, over a period of six months, to even clarify what it believes a ‘bicycle shop’ is, the likes of Mr Gove are failing to provide the leadership and guidance that businesses require,” Frasers Group said in its statement yesterday.
“Even the chaotic demises of BHS and Debenhams seem to us to be a picnic when compared to the systematic and risible mismanagement of Covid-19 by Mr Gove and his cohorts, which is causing devastation in particular to the retail sector.”
In other regions of the UK, Frasers Group said its stores in Northern Ireland and Scotland remain open.
In Wales, stores are currently closed but are expected to open on Monday, “albeit subject to further announcements”.
Meanwhile, M&S has shut off its clothing and home areas within its stores that also sell food – more than initially thought necessary – under the updated lockdown rules for England.
The new rules indicate that grocery retailers can sell “non-essential” homeware if it is stocked on its aisles, but if the goods are on a separate floor, it must close off the area.
In light of updated guidance, M&S is now closing 238 floors – over half of its non-food selling space.
It had initially thought it would only close up to one-fifth of its non-food selling space.
M&S has total store estate of 920 stores. Of that, 615 are food-only, 75 are exclusively for clothing and home, while 260 sell both clothing and food.
It comes after M&S’s half-year trading updated earlier this week revealed a loss for the first time in its 94 years after its clothing and home division was dealt a huge blow due to the first and longer lockdown earlier this year.
Maternity and early childhood retailer JoJo Maman Bébé has also slammed ministers for forcing it to go into lockdown in England, saying it provides an essential service for young families.
The BRC has said the updated rules created “arbitrary” lines over what was deemed essential.
“Unfortunately for many people, this means they cannot visit shops to get the items that are essential to them, from the home office equipment and electronics they need for work, or the pots, pans, fridges and freezers they need during lockdown,” the lobby group said in a statement.
with PA Wires