Lord Wolfson, the chief executive of Next, has accused local councils of “Luddite intransigence and incompetence” for rejecting planning permission for new stores and threatening Britain’s economic recovery.
Lord Wolfson warned that 2013 had so far been “quiet” with Next’s sales “at the bottom of our target range”
He said planning “remains a problem” for the FTSE 100 company and that it cannot open stores as quickly as it wants to because of delays in discussions with local councils.
More than half of the company’s new space over the next three years is scheduled to come from larger out-of-town department store-style units. But Lord Wolfson said: “There are some pro-growth councils but others are slow and don’t want change.”
The Next boss made the comments as the fashion retailer posted 3pc growth in annual sales, despite tumultuous conditions on the high street.
The rise in sales in the 12 months to January 2013 was entirely due to a 9.5pc rise in sales from Next’s Directory business, which includes online sales. The retailer’s high street stores reported flat sales. However, given that sales from new stores added 3.2pc, this means that like-for-like sales in each store – which Next does not report – fell.
Lord Wolfson warned that 2013 had so far been “quiet” with Next’s sales “at the bottom of our target range”.
The Next boss said “people are getting poorer” due to minimal growth in wages but that the retailer was “walking up the down escalator” and in the past 12 months has “performed well in a difficult year”.
For the year to January 2013, revenues rose to £3.56bn, of which £1.19bn came from the Next Directory business.
Pre-tax profits rose from £579.5m to £666.5m.
Lord Wolfson said pre-tax profits for the new financial year are likely to be between £615m and £665m, with Next sales rising between 1pc and 4pc.