Chain talks

Canadian billionaire hopeful of last-ditch Wilko deal

More than 12,000 jobs are in the balance at the discount chain

HMV owner Doug Putman remains confident of saving some of the stores and jobs at the collapsed Wilko chain which is due to shut on Monday.

Amid a confusing few days of talks and speculation, Wilko’s future has switched from inevitable demise to optimism that the discount home products chain can be salvaged.

Canadian billionaire Mr Putman plans to keep up to 300 of the current 400 Wilko shops open if he succeeds in buying the business, providing a lifeline to most of the 12,500 workers.

His continued interest follows a failed £90m bid by private equity firm M2 Capital which is thought to have been unable to provide proof of funding.

Wilko, founded in Leicester in 1930, fell into administration last month and sources say there is no guarantee this last-ditch bid will succeed. But a source familiar with the situation says the offer is credible enough for major creditors to be consulted.

Administrators at PwC said on Thursday that 269 jobs at the chain’s support centre in Worksop and 14 others from a subsidiary firm of Wilko will be cut at the close of business on Monday. The chain has 12 stores in Scotland.

PwC said all are currently trading while “discussions continue with those interested in buying parts of the business”.

Mr Putman rose to prominence in 2019 when his company Sunrise Records bought HMV and saved 1,500 jobs and about 100 stores. The businessman’s family also own Toys R Us in Canada.

The GMB union, which represents about 4,000 Wilko staff, said it remained hopeful for a bid from a viable buyer to save the jobs of employees in stores and online, but warned “we cannot in any way guarantee this and must therefore continue to prepare for the worst”.

The union said the majority of people working in Wilko’s commercial trading team, IT, finance, legal and Human Resources would be made redundant on Monday.

“It should be stressed that at this point, we do not have high hopes of doing so but we will not stop working on this and hope that even if we are unable to do so prior to closures, we will actively look to keep members’ details in the hope of being able to staff up quickly if we find buyers or new tenants for the sites,” a GMB statement said.

M2 Capital chairman Robert Mantse said his dealings with the administrators had been a “circus” and accused PwC of being “beyond unfair”. He said M2 is now considering legal action.

Wilko’s rivals such as B&M and Poundland are also understood to be interested in cherry-picking its stores.

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