Northern Ireland news

Call for high street ‘Marshall Plan' after collapse of Debenhams and Arcadia Group

Shutters down on Debenhams' flagship Belfast Store on Royal Avenue yesterday. Picture by Mal McCann.
Ryan McAleer

THE Executive is being urged to embark on a ‘Marshall Plan’ style rescue package for high streets after one of the darkest ever weeks in the history of the north’s retail sector.

Hundreds of jobs are set to go across five Debenhams department stores in Belfast, Newry, Derry, Ballymena and Craigavon.

Dozens more jobs are at risk across Arcadia’s northern operation after it collapsed into administration on Monday night. The group includes the Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Miss Selfridge brands, with many in-store concessions embedded within the Debenhams and Menarys network.

Debenhams confirmed its liquidation plan yesterday morning following the collapse of a potential rescue deal with JD Sports. The withdrawal is believed to be in-part linked to the demise of Arcadia, Debenhams biggest operator of in-store concessions.

Debenhams said its administrators have "regretfully" decided to start winding down operations while continuing to seek offers "for all or parts of the business".

All five department stores in the north are currently closed under the latest Covid-19 lockdown on non-essential retail.

When they do reopen, they’re expected to embark on a stock clearance programme before shutting for good.

The collapse of Debenhams and Arcadia follows the closure of DW Sports and all Eason’s stores in the north over the summer.

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “These few days have been amongst the worst our high streets have ever seen.”

He said there are now real fears of a ‘domino effect’.

“The Executive now faces a huge challenge ahead to address this emergency and needs to consider a ‘Marshall Plan’ financial package to save our local town centres and high streets.”

Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton similarly called for immediate support from the Executive.

“Our worst fears about the impact of the restrictions introduced by the Executive to stop the spread of the coronavirus are coming true before our very eyes,” he said.

Quizzed over the Executive's response yesterday, Economy Minister Diane Dodds told the Assembly chamber that her department had issued almost £340 million in support to businesses during the Covid crisis. She also said a £95m high street stimulus scheme would be rolled out in the new year.

The minster said she would raise her concerns over both Debenhams and Arcadia directly during a meeting the British Business Secretary today.

Ms Dodds also said she would write to the administrators “to impress on them the need to seek alternative buyers to take on the stores as going concerns in order to retain the jobs and livelihoods of local staff”.

A Downing Street spokesman said last night: “We remain committed to supporting the retail sector and are working closely with industry during these very challenging times."

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