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Debenhams facing closure after rescue talks collapse

By Calum MacLeod

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Debenhams' Eastgate store will continue to trade, but its long term future remains uncertain.
Debenhams' Eastgate store will continue to trade, but its long term future remains uncertain.

Eastgate Shopping Centre’s anchor store Debenhams is facing a nightmare before Christmas following the failure of a last-ditch rescue effort for the department store chain.

Debenhams was placed in administration in April and hopes of its survival had rested on a takeover.

However, with the withdrawal of the final remaining bidder, JD Sports, the threat of closure now hangs over all remaining 124 Debenhams shops, placing the jobs of 12,000 workers at risk.

It will continue to trade through its stores and online to clear its stock but administrators have warned that if no alternative offers have been received by the end of the liquidation process, it will close.

The news came just hours after Topshop owner Arcadia fell into administration, putting a further 13,000 UK retail jobs at risk. Many Arcadia brands were concessions in Debenhams stores. There are also some within the Outfit outlet at Inverness Shopping Park.

Debenhams has been the flagship anchor store at the Inverness shopping centre since the opening of its Eastgate II extension in 2003 and as the only branch north of Aberdeen, is seen as a key component of the centre and city retail offering, and a draw for customers from across the region.

Eastgate Shopping Centre manager Jackie Cuddy said: “It is always sad to hear of retailers going into administration but unfortunately in these current times, we are hearing of it more. Both Debenhams and Topshop/Topman are still open and trading in the centre and until we have confirmation of anything different, we have no further comments to make.”

One 54-year-old Debenhams worker, who did not want to be named, said staff were devastated.

“We all knew it was a possibility, but we just kept thinking it would be OK,” she said. “Communication with Debenhams PLC has been appalling – to read about your job going from Facebook is demoralising.

“But for years we have had far too much stock, and the customers are just not coming in any more to buy it.

“There was always a sale on, so people didn’t buy things at full price unless they had to.”

She added: “We have the best customers in Inverness and I for one will miss them. But everyone seems to be shopping online – this year even more so.

“It is sad for the Eastgate Centre and for those of us who enjoyed working for a big department store. It will be the end of an era.”

Councillor Alasdair Christie: 'This is a huge worry to the council and the recovery plan of the Highlands.'
Councillor Alasdair Christie: 'This is a huge worry to the council and the recovery plan of the Highlands.'

Alasdair Christie, Highland Council’s deputy leader and chairman of the local authority’s pandemic recovery board, hoped the firms could be saved.

“This is a huge worry to the council and the recovery plan of the Highlands,” he said.

“Debenhams and Arcadia are long-established businesses and huge employers in the city. They take up a great deal of space not just in shopping space in Inverness, but across the whole of Scotland.

“We will be seeing the loss of footfall coming into the city centre, we will be seeing the loss of jobs. I do only hope that some kind of rescue package can be developed to secure the long-term future for staff and for the stores.”

It is not known exactly how many people are employed at the Inverness store, but it is believed to be at least 60.

Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol said the loss of Debenhams would be a devastating blow.

“It is really difficult for high street retailers, we know, and this pandemic is compounding the challenges they already face,” he said. “As businesses, as retail and as a city centre we have to start recovery and redefining what we are all about, so it is an opportunity – as well as a major blow – to look at the precise make-up of our city centre trade and how to attract people.”

Former Debenhams employee Mary MacIntyre (32), of Merkinch, was not surprised at the news. She left earlier this year after working there for two years.

“It was coming,” she said. “The store was quiet most days before the lockdown, and there just wasn’t the same spirit when we went back after the shops were allowed to reopen.

“I was only part-time, but you could see that everyone who was full-time had started to look for new jobs because the writing was on the wall.”

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