Wilko former boss denies greed was part of retail chain's collapse, after family pockets £9 million dividend

28 November 2023, 15:53

Lisa Wilkinson denied that greed was a factor in the company's demise
Lisa Wilkinson denied that greed was a factor in the company's demise. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The former head of Wilko, the high street homeware chain that collapsed this year, has told MPs that "greed" did not contribute to the retailer's demise.

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Some 12,000 workers were left facing redundancy after Wilko went out of business in August this year, after 93 years of trading.

The Wilkinson family, who founded the company, received £9 million in dividends from 2019. Wilko bosses were also criticised for paying £77 million to owners and former shareholders in the ten years before it went bust.

Lisa Wilkinson, who was the company's chairwoman before it went out of business, was asked by MPs on Tuesday whether the company's "greed" was a factor.

Ms Wilkinson told the Business and Trade parliamentary committee: 'I don't believe so, no.'

She also apologised to former employees for the company's collapse.

Wilko went bust this year
Wilko went bust this year. Picture: Alamy

"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," she said.

Pushed to apologise directly by committee chairman Liam Byrne, 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 any more."

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.

Wilko went bust this year
Wilko went bust this year. Picture: Getty

"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."

Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng
Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng. Picture: Alamy

The mini-budget included £45bn of unfunded tax cuts, and was followed by a fall in the value of the pound and rising mortgage rates.

She soon sacked the then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and then resigned to become the shortest serving prime minister of all time.

Read More: ‘Of course I am sorry’, former Wilko boss tells MPs

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Wilko closed its doors to members of the public early in October, though its brand was bought by The Range.

It means The Range can use Wilko's name online or even in its own stores.

Lisa Wilkinson was the chairwoman of Wilko before its collapse
Lisa Wilkinson was the chairwoman of Wilko before its collapse. Picture: Alamy

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."