Mike Ashley ready to pounce on Topshop AND Debenhams

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group has revealed it could still buy Arcadia brands such as Topshop as it attempts to mount a parallel rescue of Debenhams.

The firm’s finance chief, Chris Wootton, yesterday confirmed talks were continuing with administrators of both the collapsed retailers ‘about what the future might hold for us’.

It raises the prospect that Ashley could swoop in to gobble up both, greatly expanding his already-vast High Street empire.

On the hunt: Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group is in talks with the administrators of both Topshop and Debenhams

Arcadia, owned by pugnacious tycoon Sir Philip Green, crumpled at the end of November after the impact of pandemic restrictions pushed its finances to breaking point.

It was followed by department store Debenhams, which relies on Arcadia brands such as Topshop, Burton and Dorothy Perkins for around 5 per cent of its sales.

Together the two businesses employ nearly 30,000 staff – with all of those jobs at risk if buyers cannot be found.

Ashley, a protege-turned-rival of Green, had offered to provide an emergency loan to his former mentor but the offer was spurned.

He is still said to be interested in snapping up some of Arcadia’s brands, however, and is facing competition from the likes of online rivals such as Boohoo.

The 56-year-old is also trying to fulfil his long-held ambition of buying Debenhams, but that is being complicated by the firm’s ties to Arcadia.

Yesterday Wootton declined to comment on the progress of talks but said it was ‘correct to say Arcadia is a big constituent part of Debenhams’.

Referring to Frasers’ potential interest in Arcadia’s brands, he added: ‘We do tend to look at almost everything on the High Street, one way or the other, and we said to the media a few weeks ago that we were interested in looking at it.’

Almost all of Frasers’ shops were closed in England from November 5, and Wales shut for a little over two weeks. They reopened on December 2.

For the 26 weeks to October 25, Frasers Group said revenues fell 7.4 per cent to £1.89billion but profits rose 17.6 per cent to £106.1million.

The company said the profits boost was thanks to the strong reopening of stores’ after the spring lockdown, which hit all of the UK.

Online performance remains strong, the firm added, meaning profits are expected to rise by about 20 per cent to 30 per cent over the full financial year – better than forecast.

But Ashley warned of the impact of the end of the business rates holiday in April.

He said Frasers Group could ‘weather the storm’ but added: ‘Much of the High Street won’t survive unless the Government addresses the out-of-date business rates regime.’