UK

Of course I am sorry, former Wilko boss tells MPs

Former Wilko chairwoman Lisa Wilkinson said Liz Truss’s mini-budget was partly to blame for the retailer’s collapse (Ben Birchall/PA)
Former Wilko chairwoman Lisa Wilkinson said Liz Truss’s mini-budget was partly to blame for the retailer’s collapse (Ben Birchall/PA) Former Wilko chairwoman Lisa Wilkinson said Liz Truss’s mini-budget was partly to blame for the retailer’s collapse (Ben Birchall/PA)

The former chairwoman of Wilko has apologised to the thousands of people who lost their jobs when the retailer went bust.

Speaking to MPs on the Business and Trade Committee, Lisa Wilkinson also said former prime minister Liz Truss’s mini-budget was one of the reasons behind the company’s collapse in August this year.

“I am devastated that we have let each and every one of those people down with the insolvency of Wilko,” she said.

“I don’t know how to put into words how sad I am that we have let down all our team members, all our customers, our suppliers, and our advisers.”

Pushed by committee chairman Liam Byrne to apologise directly, Ms Wilkinson said: “You can have the word sorry, of course I am sorry… I am sorry that we are not there supporting these people anymore.”

More than 12,000 people lost their jobs when the 93-year-old chain went into administration.

Ms Wilkinson said there were a number of reasons for Wilko’s failure, one of which was soaring interest rates after the mini-budget in autumn last year.

“We were about to enter into secured lending arrangements with Macquarie when the 2022 mini-budget happened,” she said.

“Literally we were in the midst of that, and at that point the interest terms on that loan were hiked massively and that became infeasible. So, that was a contributor.”

It came after the committee heard evidence from the GMB union that Wilko had told it of a “challenging trading position” as early as 2010.

“We’ve got correspondence between ourselves and Wilko where they identify a challenging trading position from about 2010,” said GMB national officer Nadine Houghton.

“They identify that the discount retailers are an issue.”

She said that, rather than leaning into that, the company tried to change its business model.

“What you see is a move away from this idea of Wilko as a discount retailer,” Ms Houghton said.

She added: “The internal messaging to our members … was very much this attempt to move very much to almost a John Lewis-type model.”