Boots and John Lewis to cut 5,300 jobs and close stores

Chemist shuts 48 opticians and department store group shuts eight of its 50 stores

Boots and John Lewis have announced plans to cut 5,300 jobs and close stores on another bleak day for the UK high street.

Boots is cutting 4,000 jobs – or 7% of its workforce – by closing 48 opticians outlets and reducing staff at its head office in Nottingham as well as some management and customer service roles in stores.

The company, which has 2,465 stores, said it was accelerating a restructuring plan after sales at its main Boots outlets dived 72% and sales at Boots Opticians slumped 48% during the coronavirus lockdown on the high street.

John Lewis also announced on Thursday that it is planning to permanently close eight of its 50 stores, including full department stores in Birmingham and Watford, with the likely loss of 1,300 jobs.

All four of the group’s smaller At Home stores, in Croydon, Newbury, Swindon and Tamworth, are to close, as well as two outlets in travel hubs at Heathrow airport and at St Pancras station in London.

The job losses come after the announcement of nearly 9,000 high street redundancies last week, with cuts at retailers ranging from Harrods to the Topshop owner Arcadia group and SSP, the company behind hundreds of railway and airport eateries including Upper Crust. A further 2,000 are at risk at Poundstretcher, which has said it could close half its estate if landlords do not agree to rent cuts.

On Thursday, further potential job losses were flagged by the Burger King fast food chain. The group’s UK boss said that up to 10% of its UK outlets could be forced to close which could lead to more than 1,600 job losses.

The owner of a major conference venue in Wales, The Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, also announced plans to make 450 of its 995 permanent workers redundant on Thursday. It said it was cutting jobs in the face of “drastically reduced occupancies and revenues”.

Both Boots and John Lewis said their planned store closures and job cuts reflected an increase in online shopping during the pandemic. Boots said its online sales had soared 78% during the lockdown and it would be investing more into online and digital services in future.

John Lewis said the eight shops facing closure were already “financially challenged” before the coronavirus crisis but matters had worsened during the pandemic. “Before the virus struck, 40% of John Lewis sales were online. This could now be closer to 60% to 70% of total sales this year and next,” the company said in a statement.

Sharon White, the chairman of John Lewis’s parent group the John Lewis Partnership, said: “We believe closures are necessary to help us secure the sustainability of the partnership and continue to meet the needs of our customers, however and wherever they want to shop. Redundancies are always an absolute last resort and we will do everything we can to keep as many partners as possible within our business.”

The company said it would seek to find alternative jobs for those who had been working in the permanently closed stores, including at nearby outlets of its sister chain, Waitrose.

Andy Street, the former boss of the John Lewis department store chain who is now the mayor of the West Midlands, said the potential demise of the Birmingham store was “incredibly disappointing.” Street, who oversaw the opening of the store in 2015, said in a tweet that the closure risked being a “dreadful mistake” and that he would be making the case for it to remain open.

On Thursday, John Lewis confirmed that nine shops that had closed because of the coronavirus lockdown would reopen on 30 July. They are: Aberdeen, Ashford, Brent Cross, Chichester, Oxford, Peterborough, Reading, Sheffield and White City Westfield. Its Leicester site will also reopen when the local lockdown is lifted, which would take the number of reopened John Lewis shops to 42.

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Sarah Butler and Kalyeena Makortoff

The GuardianTramp

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