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An Anglo-Canadian bidder for collapsed retailer Wilko has criticised administrators PwC, questioning whether the process was “fair and transparent” as pressure grows for the discount chain’s future to be settled.
M2 Capital, which says it submitted an offer of “more than $100mn” for the whole group minutes before midnight on Friday, wrote to the chair of PwC, Bob Moritz, on Tuesday to complain about the bidding process.
Robert Mantse, chair of M2 and who has previously worked for PwC, claimed in an emailed letter seen by the Financial Times that the private equity firm had to submit a final offer and proof of financing on a public holiday in the UK on Monday, without being given access to a secure data room to examine Wilko’s finances.
A source close to the process, however, questioned the seriousness of M2’s offer and whether it had the required funds available to buy Wilko in its entirety after it did not provide further details in response to queries from the administrators on Monday.
Mantse did not respond to a Financial Times query about M2’s ability to fund the bid.
M2’s criticism came after Wilko collapsed into administration this month, throwing the future of 400 shops and about 12,500 jobs in doubt.
The GMB union, which represents thousands of Wilko workers, wrote to the business secretary on Monday to seek an urgent meeting to discuss the administration. It claimed that some bidders had reported “difficulties” engaging with insolvency specialists at PwC.
“It is our view that no redundancies should take place if meaningful offers have been tabled that will protect jobs,” said Andy Prendergast, GMB’s national secretary.
Mantse spoke to Prendergast as M2 prepared the bid for Wilko last week, according to the letter seen by the FT.
Separately, Canadian tycoon Doug Putman, who owns HMV, was also interested in buying a large chunk of Wilko’s store estate, according to two people with knowledge of the bid, as were other UK discount chains. Putman declined to comment.
PwC said of M2’s communication: “We wholeheartedly reject the assertions and characterisations in this open letter. We are running a fair and transparent sales process, and remain focused on our duty to secure the best outcome for all creditors, while preserving as many jobs as possible.”
They added: “We are actively engaging with all interested parties, assessing the deliverability of all bids made and requesting necessary information. It would be inappropriate to comment on individual bidders or interested parties at this stage in the process.”
GMB said that saving jobs should be prioritised even if this meant a worse deal for creditors such as Hilco, the restructuring specialist that lent the chain £40mn before it collapsed.
The union said it was concerned by the influence of Hilco, which is separately advising PwC on the possible liquidation of some assets, including stock, if no bidder is found.
A source close to Hilco said the lender had no say over PwC’s decisions and the ultimate outcome for Wilko. The company, which became a lender to Wilko before PwC was appointed administrator, typically advises on high-profile retail administrations to secure the maximum return for creditors. Hilco declined to comment.
A government spokesperson said it would “continue to stand firmly behind” UK workers but did not confirm if a meeting with the union would take place. “While this is a commercial decision . . . we understand that this will be a concerning time for workers at Wilko,” they added.