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Wilko job fears deepen as Poundland owner eyes swoop on 100 stores | Business News

Fears for thousands of retail jobs at the ailing chain Wilko deepened on Wednesday evening when trade union officials warned that the majority of its shops were likely to close within days.

Sky News has learnt that administrators at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are in advanced talks to carve up parts of the 400-strong chain, with Poundland’s owner, Pepco Group, in discussions to acquire roughly 100 stores.

B&M European Retail, the London-listed discount chain, is also in negotiations to take on between 40 and 50 shops, according to one insider.

Other value retailers, including TOFS, which is owned by the private equity firm Duke Street, have lodged offers to acquire smaller parcels comprising about ten sites.

Retail industry sources said an announcement was expected to be made by PwC on Thursday outlining the sale agreements with at least some of the bidders.

Even if agreements with Pepco, B&M and TOFS are finalised, it is likely to mean that more than 200 Wilko stores will face permanent closure.

That could mean that well over 6,000 jobs, including those of Wilko head office staff, would be lost, although the eventual figure could be substantially higher than that.

In a statement pre-empting an announcement from PwC, the GMB Union said: “In a meeting with administrators today GMB Union was informed there is no longer any prospect that the majority of the business will be saved.

“This means redundancies for staff in store and at call centres will begin during the coming week.

“Some stores may be bought, either individually or as part of larger packages, but significant job losses are now expected.”

The union said talks had been taking place about a larger deal for about half of Wilko’s stores with an unnamed bidder, and Sky News understands that there remains a faint, but receding, possibility that this could yet be salvaged.

Andy Prendergast, GMB national secretary, told Wilko’s 12,500-strong workforce that it would “continue to support members through this process and will fight to ensure members are consulted as per the law and that you receive every penny you are entitled to”.

“We will fight to ensure Wilko bosses are held accountable for the simple reason our members deserve so much better.

“GMB will not forget the incompetence that has led to this collapse and will we not forget the dividends paid to the millionaires who gambled your jobs on their whims. “

Reacting to the GMB statement, Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow business secretary, said: “This is devastating news that will likely see stores close across the country. Their loss will have a massive impact on their high streets and my thoughts are with those Wilko staff and their families facing this dreadful news.

“Sadly, shuttered up shops and struggling high streets has become the norm after 13 years of Conservative economic failure.

“Labour has a plan for our high streets. We will tackle the things holding firms back by reforming business rates, cracking down on anti-social behaviour and putting an end to empty premises to bring shoppers back to their high street.”

The family-owned chain, which was established by the Wilkinson family in 1930, had been working with PwC on a search for new investment for several months.

Shortly before it crashed into administration, Sky News revealed that Gordon Brothers, Alteri Investors and Opcapita were examining last-ditch proposals to invest in the business.

Like many high street retailers, it has been hit by inflationary pressures and supply chain challenges.

In recent months, it had been seeking to finalise a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) – a mechanism that would have triggered steep rent cuts at hundreds of stores but avoided any closures.

As recently as late last month, a spokesman for Wilko had described talk of administration as “unfounded”.

The administrators said: “Since our appointment as administrators of Wilko we have held extensive discussions with parties who expressed an interest in buying all or part of the business.

“While discussions continue with those interested in buying parts of the business, it’s clear that the nature of this interest is not focused on the whole group.

“Sadly, it is therefore likely that there will be redundancies and store closures in the future and it has today been necessary to update employee representatives.

“We know this will further add to the uncertainty felt by workers. We will be supporting staff through this deeply unsettling time, working closely with the government, JobCentre plus, unions and large employers to maximise possibilities for a rapid return to work for employees in the event of redundancies.

“In the immediate term, all stores remain open, continue to trade and staff continue to be paid. Contrary to speculation, there are currently no plans to close any stores next week.”

A B&M spokesman declined to comment and a spokesman for Pepco said he would not respond unless a query was emailed.

Wilko Johnson: Dr Feelgood star dies aged 75 | Ents & Arts News

Musician Wilko Johnson has died aged 75, a statement on official social media accounts has confirmed.

The guitarist and songwriter was a member of rock band Dr Feelgood in the 1970s, joined Ian Dury’s band The Blockheads in the 1980s, and also had a successful career with his own group The Wilko Johnson Band.

After being diagnosed with what was initially thought to be terminal cancer in 2013, he collaborated with The Who’s Roger Daltrey on an album called Going Back Home, which went to number three in the UK charts the following year. In an interview, he said he thought it would be the “last thing I ever did”.

Wilko Johnson attending The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson premiere at The Picture House Central, London.

Game Of Thrones fans will also known him from his appearance as the mute Lannister executioner Ser Ilyn Payne in the hit series.

He died at home on Monday.

A statement shared on social media said: “This is the announcement we never wanted to make, and we do so, on behalf of Wilko’s family and the band, with a very heavy heart: Wilko Johnson has died. He passed away at home on Monday evening, 21 November 2022.

“Thank you for respecting Wilko’s family’s privacy at this very sad time, and thank you all for having been such a tremendous support throughout Wilko’s incredible life. RIP Wilko Johnson.”

Johnson had previously been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer but said in an interview with The Northern Echo in 2019: “It seems very unjust but I’m in the clear and feeling pretty healthy other than I’m missing a pancreas but apart from that I’m really fit.”

He had recorded an interview with the Blues In the Night podcast which was released just days before his death, and was playing live up until October.

Born on Canvey Island in Essex in 1947, the musician graduated from Newcastle University before travelling around India, then returned to Essex to work as an English teacher. Not long after, he formed Dr Feelgood, hugely influential pub-rock pioneers who paved the way for punk.

He released his autobiography, Looking Back At Me, in 2012, and another memoir, Don’t You Leave Me Here, in 2016, following his cancer diagnosis – writing about how he decided “to accept his imminent death” by touring.

‘A presence we’d never beheld before’: Musicians pay tribute

Following the announcement of Johnson’s death, musician Billy Bragg described him as “a precursor of punk” and said: “His guitar playing was angry and angular, but his presence – twitchy, confrontational, out of control – was something we’d never beheld before in UK pop. Rotten, Strummer and Weller learned a lot from his edgy demeanour. He does it right RIP.”

Alex Kapranos, lead singer of Franz Ferdinand, was also among those paying tribute, saying: “Very sad to hear Wilko Johnson has died. His unique, wired playing & stage presence thrilled & inspired many guitarists, myself included.”

Blur’s Graham Coxon described him as “one of my all time tele heroes”, while The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess simply posted: “God speed Wilko.”

Broadcaster Bob Harris shared a photo of the pair together, and said: “So sad at the passing of the great Wilko Johnson. I first saw Dr Feelgood at the Hope & Anchor in 1974 and they did their first ever radio session on my @BBCR1 show a few days later. Wilko was absolutely unique. His energy and spirit were incredible.”