Former Wilko chair Lisa Wilkinson has laid out the issues that led to the collapse of the retailer, including pointing to former prime minister Liz Truss’ mini-budget for driving up interest rates.

Wilko Sunderland

Former CEO Mark Jackson said there was ‘definitely a window where a turnaround could have been done’

Speaking to MPs on the business and trade select committee, Wilkinson said Wilko had all but agreed lending arrangements with Australian bank Macquarie in mid-September 2022 but the mini-budget increased interest rates.

“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.”

Wilkinson also blamed “declining high streets”, business rates, the pandemic, choosing to keep the business open during lockdown and pay staff rather than use the government’s furlough scheme, and having too many stores as reasons for the business collapsing into administration.

She also said management failures and a lack of product availability meant customers “gradually reduced shopping with Wilko”.

Wilkinson said the retailer “failed to satisfactorily address our category and product offer and move to something different and better. We had huge pressure on margin, spiraling costs and Wilko was over-rented on the high street, and we had weak processes and infrastructure”.

Former chief executive Mark Jackson said there was “definitely a window where a turnaround could have been done” but suppliers would not back the proposed company voluntary arrangement.

He said: “The funding required a detailed plan and we had agreed funding on the other side. But the funding upfront still required that we have an [asset-based lending] agreement with Hilco and Hilco didn’t want to be in for the long term.

“As time ran on, the lack of availability of stock in store made the position worse each day. But there was definitely a window where a turnaround could have been done.

“Actually, the difference in funding that we could raise and the funding that was required is quite a bit less than the [subsequent] cost to the taxpayer.”

Committee chair Liam Byrne asked Wilkinson to apologise for the collapse of the business and the loss of 10,000 jobs.

“I don’t know how to put into words how sad I am that we have let down all our customers, all of our team members, our suppliers, our advisers. Genuinely,” she said. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Sorry was the one word I was looking for,” replied Byrne.

Wilkinson replied: “You can have the word sorry. Of course, I’m sorry. If you wish me to say the word sorry – I thought devastated covered it”.

The hearing came after HMV owner Doug Putman told BBC Radio 4’s Today that he had all but agreed to a deal to save the business but it fell through after “everyone just got a little bit greedy”.

He also said creditors and landlords had been “super inflexible”, making a deal “literally impossible” in the end.

Putman said: “I would say everyone just got a little bit greedy and unfortunately weren’t thinking about the 10,000-plus jobs that would have been saved and were only thinking about their little piece of it.”

He had hoped to take over 300 Wilko shops but that number dropped to 100 before he walked away.

In the end, the owner of Poundland took the leases of 71 former Wilko stores, while discount chain B&M took over more than 50. The Range owner bought the rights to the Wilko name and website and announced plans to open five Wilko-branded stores before Christmas.