March 24 2020 @ 9:37 by Steven Hugill
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct empire has performed a U-turn over plans to remain open amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The high street retailer had previously suggested it would continue trading from its shops, owing to it being “uniquely well-placed to help keep the UK as fit and healthy as possible during this crisis.”
The business – under its Fraser Group title – also wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking if it could remain open.
However, after the Prime Minister introduced a UK-wide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – and significant backlash to its plans – Sports Direct has performed a climb down.
The firm has now said it will “not open to the public…until we are given the go-ahead by the Government.”
A spokesperson added the company is “contacting the Government at all levels, including attempting to get confirmation from the Prime Minister.”
The firm’s plans had come in for serious criticism, with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove saying there wasn’t “any justification” for the retailer to stay open.
“People can walk, run or cycle, they should, but there is no reason for a store like Sports Direct to remain open,” he said.
Prior to the Prime Minister’s lockdown announcement, which permits people one form of exercise a day and allows them to leave their homes only for food and medicine necessities, Newcastle-headquartered baker Greggs had revealed it was closing all shops from Tuesday, March 24.
Having remained open over previous days and weeks – with increased hygiene and separation measures in its shops – the business said “to protect our people and customers we need to go further and temporarily close our shops completely.”
Bosses said they will use the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to keep staff at full contract hours for as long as possible.
They also revealed the business had suffered a sharp reduction in footfall, with all areas of its store estate experiencing decline because of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Roger Whiteside, chief executive, said he remains confident the pie and pasty maker will be able to work through the tough situation.
He said: “While the outlook during this crisis remains uncertain, Greggs is a resilient business with strong growth credentials and we should be confident of its ability to navigate this event and return to growth when the economy recovers.”