Debenhams to close 50 stores, putting 4,000 jobs at risk

Debenhams has five stores in the North East. It is not known if any are on the closure list.
Debenhams has five stores in the North East. It is not known if any are on the closure list.
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Debenhams is to close up to 50 stores, putting around 4,000 jobs at risk.

The group said the closures will take place over a three to five-year period, and the announcement comes alongside a dire set of financial figures.

Debenhams swung to a £491.5million loss in the year to September 1 after being stung by exceptional write-downs of £512.4million, primarily relating to store and lease provisions, IT costs and impairment charges.

The loss compares to a profit of £59million last year.

It is not yet known which stores are earmarked for closure. In the North East the group has stores in Sunderland, Newcastle, Gateshead, Stockton, as well as a Desire by Debenhams outlet in South Shields.

Related: Debenhams closures prove retailers need to adapt, says Sunderland academic

Boss Sergio Bucher said: "It has been a tough year for retail in 2018 and our performance reflects that.

"We are taking decisive steps to strengthen Debenhams in a market that remains volatile and challenging.

"We are taking tough decisions on stores where financial performance is likely to deteriorate over time.

"Debenhams remains a strong and trusted brand with 19 million customers shopping with us over the past year.

"With a strengthened balance sheet, we will focus investment behind our strategic priorities and ensure that Debenhams has a sustainable and profitable future."

"I can promise my 26,000 staff across the UK that we will work very hard to protect as many stores and as many jobs as we can."

Shares in the retailer opened down around 6% at 8p.

Woes at Debenhams comes as a raft of retailers including New Look, Carpetright and Mothercare also embark on store closures programmes.

The high street has also been hit with the collapse of House of Fraser, Maplin, ToysRUs and Coast.

Robert Hayton, head of business rates at real estate advisor Altus Group, said: "Department stores are beginning to look like the dinosaurs of the high street.

"Big rents, high rate liabilities, large staffing needs, and leases that are difficult to give up all conspire to create a beast unable to adapt to a rapidly changing retail climate."

To compound matters, Debenhams is also the subject of takeover talk, with speculation building that Mike Ashley is set to merge it with his newly-acquired House of Fraser.

The Sports Direct tycoon owns just under 30% of Debenhams, close to the threshold at which he must launch an official takeover bid.