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Sports Direct offers to deliver NHS supplies in its lorries

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
A view of a closed Sports Direct store. (Nick Potts/PA via AP)

The parent company of Sports Direct has volunteered to deliver NHS supplies around the country in its fleet of lorries.

Chris Wootton, chief financial officer of Frasers Group (FRAS.L), said in a letter sent to Cabinet minister Michael Gove that the company was “keen to help support in whatever way we can our marvellous NHS.”

“The most immediate opportunity for this may be afforded by our fleet of lorries that can travel all around the country and help where possible delivering supplies etc,” Wootton wrote in the letter, which was sent on Wednesday and shared with the media.

Wootton sent the letter to Gove following a call with the minister, in which he also offered support for the NHS.

The offer follows criticism of Frasers Group, formerly known as Sports Direct, over its handling of the national lockdown. The company initially tried to open its stores on Tuesday despite the national shutdown, telling staff it should be classed as an “essential” retailer because it could help keep the nation fit during the crisis.

Gove had told the BBC’s Today Programme Sports Direct had made the “wrong” decision by trying to open stores on Tuesday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament companies that ignored the lockdown order should “expect the consequences”.

The company abandoned the plan, but still faced criticism for hiking the price of some items online by 50% and leaving the fate of staff on zero hours contracts unclear.

Wootton suggested in his letter to Gove that Frasers Group had consulted with the government before deciding to open stores and insisted the decision was about keeping the nation fit, not making money.

Read more: Sports Direct and JD Wetherspoon bosses questioned over staff treatment

“We wish to make absolutely clear that as a business keeping open any of our stores is completely uncommercial for us at this time,” he wrote.

Wootton also defended Frasers Group’s treatment of staff, saying “the vast majority of employees who were in the categories designated as being vulnerable” had been sent home on full pay.

“Furthermore we voluntarily went further and sought to extend the designated category of the vulnerable to those over 60,” he wrote. “We emphatically do care about our staff.”

Frasers Group owns Sports Direct, House of Frasers, Evans Cycles, and Jack Wills, among others. The company had sales of £3.7bn last year and employs over 29,400 staff. The company has in recent weeks been permanently closing Jack Wills stores across the country.

Rachel Reeves MP, the chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, wrote to Frasers Group chief executive Mike Ashley on Wednesday asking him how he is protecting staff and calling on him to “step up” during the coronavirus crisis.