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Record-breaking Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi to chair Very Group

Nadhim Zahawi, once the UK’s shortest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer in history, is to become the chair of Liverpool ecommerce giant Very Group.

Zahawi was in post at the treasury for two months, from July 5 2022 until September 6, when Liz Truss sacked him in favour of Kwasi Kwarteng during her own record-breaking 44 days in office.

The sacking may have enabled Zahawi to dodge a bullet as Truss and Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-budget soon after tanked the UK economy and saw the pair swiftly exit their Downing Street lodgings. Kwarteng’s 38 days as Chancellor eclipsed Zahawi’s own record in the process.

Baghdad-born Zahawi’s appointment at Very comes after he said last Thursday that he would not seek re-election as MP for Stratford-on-Avon, the latest in a steady stream of prominent Conservatives to announce he will step aside rather than taking his chances at the ballot box.

Although Zahawi avoided the fallout from Truss’ diastrous 44-day tenure as PM, he was sacked as as Conservative Party chair by Rishi Sunak in January 2023 after he was found to have breached the ministerial code by failing to declare HM Revenue and Customs’ investigation into his tax affairs.

On yesterday’s Laura Kuensberg show, Zahawi admitted that he had failed to pay £5m in taxes to HMRC due to a “careless mistake.” The tax was related the sale of shares in YouGov, the polling company he founded.

Zahawi will replace Aidan Barclay as the chair of Very, which operates the Very and Littlewoods retail brands.

He is expected to start in the role on June 1, having already sought approval by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba). Acoba on Monday published advice to Zahawi, dated from February, approving the appointment and saying that there was no direct overlap between Zahawi’s government service and his new job. He will not be allowed to lobby government until January 2025.

As chair of Very, Zahawi will be tasked with achieving “continued sales and profit growth, as well as exploring expansion of the business in new areas”. He will also look at “strategic options for the business” that could involve looking for new backers.

Zahawi is a long time friend of Very owners the Barclay family, and at one point last year was touted for chair of the Daily Telegraph, which was previously controlled by the family.

Among Zahawi’s first tasks at Very will be establishing a relationship with a new auditor after Deloitte quit in March. Deloitte said it resigned after struggling to find “appropriate and relevant information in respect of certain financing arrangements between companies in the wider group.”

Accounts for Very Group’s holding company, Shop Direct Holdings Ltd, have been overdue since December, while the company’s most recent pre-tax profits, announced last October, had dropped to £4.6m, compared to £63.9m the previous year.

Zahawi said: “I am honoured to be asked to join the board and become chair of the Very Group. As one of the UK’s largest digital retailers and flexible payments providers, the company has an important role to play in helping families get more out of life. With a heritage of over 100 years, Very has an unrivalled knowledge and understanding of its customer, demonstrating resilience even in the face of challenging conditions.”

Aidan Barclay said he was “delighted” that Zahawi was joining. He said he had a “proven track record in digital growth and innovation, and [is] highly respected in the UK and global markets”.

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