Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has insisted it is starting to see green shoots of recovery at House of Fraser, the department store chain that it bought from administrators last year for £90 million.
Releasing first-half results for his retail empire, the billionaire businessman also made a parting shot at outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who focused heavily on attacking Ashley and other wealthy entrepreneurs throughout the general election campaign.
“Mr Corbyn attacked our business during the election campaign, but he really should have checked his facts as he really was shown to be ‘clueless’,” Ashely said.
“He clearly has zero awareness of the fact we are one of the very few groups, and also one of the first, to have a workers representative as a statutory director of the group.”
On House of Fraser, the group insisted “green shoots of recovery” were starting to emerge.
Ashley, chief executive, added that sales have held up well during the crucial festive trading period, but warned: “A lot has been made about my comments regarding the ‘terminal’ nature of House of Frasers problems. For absolute clarity, as shown by the fact House of Fraser went into administration and indeed was mere hours from liquidation such was its parlous state, the business was dead, finished, destroyed.
“It was, and it is only through the incredible efforts of those within the Sports Direct Group, including the remaining House of Fraser teams, that we are tackling these problems and trying to build a business with a future, a future for Frasers that is hopefully ‘bright’.
“We are doing as much as we can to realistically save as many jobs and stores as possible however, despite our best efforts, there are still a number of stores which are currently paying zero rent and that are unprofitable and thus not sustainable.”
There was no specific mention of the group’s Jenners store in Edinburgh, where plans were recently revealed by the building’s owner to revamp the historic site. The move could see the department store relocate to another site in the capital, possibly the under-construction St James Quarter.
The group added: “The completion of the purchase of the Frasers store in Glasgow will allow us to showcase our elevation strategy and intentions for the remaining portfolio of stores.”
Sports Direct also said a €674m (£561m) tax inquiry into unpaid VAT in Belgium is progressing well.
The new come as the retail group saw sales jump 14 per cent in the six months to 27 October to some £2 billion with pre-tax profits up 160 per cent to £193.4m. No interim dividend is being paid.