The former chair of Wilko has said she was “devastated” by the collapse of the Nottinghamshire-based business while facing questions over how it failed.
Lisa Wilkinson, granddaughter of the founder James Wilkinson, also said the loss of the company had “let people down”.
She appeared before a House of Commons Business and Trade Committee on Tuesday (November 28), which heard from former Wilko executives.
The committee of 11 MPs is examining the loss of the firm to learn lessons from its failure.
The collapse of the firm in August led to the loss of 12,000 jobs nationwide. The company’s head office and one of its major distribution centres was in Worksop, Bassetlaw.
Local job losses totalled more than 2,000 roles.
Ms Wilkinson said she was “devastated that we have let each and every one of those people down”.
She said the collapse was partly down to the Liz Truss Governmen’s mini-budget, which increased on interest rates for a loan Wilkos was securing. She also pointed to struggling high streets and problems with supply.
Ms Wilkinson said: “The team members in Wilko did feel like one big family.
“I am sure that they still do between themselves.
“I am sure I am no longer included in that family. They are an amazing group of people. I will continue to thank them for everything they did in trying to save it.”
Committee chair Liam Byrne (Lab) questioned why £7.5m in dividends were paid to Wilko shareholders between 2019 and 2022, while the company profits were £11.6m.
“That is two thirds of the profits of a company that was in trouble,” he said.
“How on earth can that be justified? It looks to us, just on the numbers, that you’re burgling a failing business.”
He added that there was a remaining £50m hole in the business’s pension scheme.
Ms Wilkinson said: “We would only have paid those dividends if we had the right profit in year, or reserved profit.”
Members of the committee also questioned by Ms Wilkinson had not apologised to staff who had lost their jobs.
Ms Wilkinson, visibly emotional, said: “Before Wilko went into administration I asked to do an announcement to all team members to thank them.
“But the advice from the directors and the administrators was that I should not do that.
“I am a very private person. But I did an interview with The Times to say ‘thank you’ to my team members.
“I wanted to thank my team members, customers and suppliers. I will be thanking my team members and customers to my dying day.”
When Mr Byrne pressed Ms Wilkinson on whether she was sorry, she added: “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.
“I apologise, I wasn’t trying to be clever.”