Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has apologised for "ill-judged and poorly timed" emails to the Government and poor communication with employees and the public in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter, the majority owner of Frasers Group also said he has offered the company's "entire fleet of lorries" to the NHS to help deliver medical supplies and equipment.

It comes after the businessman faced fierce criticism from MPs after he tried to claim Sports Direct was an essential operator for keeping the nation fit, before performing a U-turn and closing his stores.

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Frasers Group - which rebranded from Sports Direct International last year - faced further scorn after its finance chief wrote a letter to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on Wednesday in an attempt to defend its position.

In the new letter, Mr Ashley said: "Our intentions were only to seek clarity from the Government as to whether we should keep some of our stores open; we would never have acted against their advice.

"In hindsight, our emails to the Government were ill-judged and poorly timed, when they clearly had much greater pressures than ours to deal with.

"On top of this, our communications to our employees and the public on this was poor.

"To reiterate, I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days. We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future."

The Newcastle United owner said staff at the retail group are "working very hard to save our business" so that the company can continue on the high street once the virus passes.

He thanked the company's employees and said he was "proud" of how the Government, NHS and other key workers have handled the situation.

Frasers Group continues to trade online in the face of the pandemic, with workers continuing to process orders at the firm's Shirebrook distribution centre.

Scotland's Finance Secretary has said she has "serious concerns" about the wait self-employed people face to access new UK Government support.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans for grants covering 80% of a self-employed worker's average monthly profit up to £2,500 to help boost finances during the coronavirus outbreak.

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However, the new scheme may not be available to June, prompting criticism of the waiting times facing Scotland's self-employed, which official figures put at 320,000.

Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes said: "Along with a range of organisations and hundreds of thousands of self-employed people across Scotland, we have been calling on the UK Government to introduce a package of measures for the self-employed similar to the support they announced for employees.

"I am pleased to see this announcement today and I recognise the difficulties in administering the system, but I have serious concerns about how long people will have to wait for this much-needed support.

"Many self-employed people are on low incomes with bills to pay and families to feed, and they cannot afford to wait until June for this vital support.

"More urgency is required whether through speeding up payments or the benefits system."

Both the Scottish Greens and the SNP reiterated calls for the introduction of a universal basic income to help those struggling financially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Liberal Democrats were among those who welcomed the support package but expressed concerns over potentially lengthy waits as did the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC).

Liz Cameron, Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive, stressed the grants "must flow quickly" to support those eligible in Scotland, adding: "In the main, this support scheme will be a great relief to the vast bulk of the 320,000 self-employed people in Scotland who are essential to the fabric of our economy particularly in rural areas."

People who open pubs or restaurants during the Covid-19 lockdown face police action under new powers granted by emergency legislation, a Scottish Government minister has said.

Michael Russell was discussing the use of the Coronavirus Bill to ensure businesses and individuals are following the rules on social distancing.

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Those who breach the guidelines can be told to return home by police, with fines and prosecution possible for those who fail to comply.

The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs said people will still be able to leave the house once a day for exercise during the lockdown.

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme on Friday: "There's no desire to penalise people for absolutely no reason.

"But this will be required to be done if people are doing the wrong thing. People should be confident that, if they're doing the right thing, if they're out for their exercise in the way suggested, then they're not doing anything wrong and the regulations say that.

"But if people are flouting these matters, if people are doing things they shouldn't do - for example, opening pubs, clubs or restaurants that they shouldn't be opening, or trying to get away with something - then they will be obviously penalised."