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700 Northern Ireland jobs on line as Debenhams faces insolvency

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Struggling: Debenhams

Struggling: Debenhams

Struggling: Debenhams

Debenhams is expected to slide into administration in the coming days as it struggles with the impact of coronavirus.

The department store chain has five branches and around 700 staff here.

Across the UK it runs 142 stores and employs around 22,000 workers.

But it could file for administration as early as next week.

And fashion chain New Look, which has around 20 stores here, was last night reported to be suspending payments to suppliers for existing stock "indefinitely", and informed them that stock can be collected by its owners.

According to the BBC, New Look has told suppliers that the move "is a matter of survival".

Debenhams has units in several shopping centres ­- Belfast's CastleCourt, Craigavon's Rushmere, Ballymena's Fairhill, Londonderry's Foyleside and Newry's Quays.

The company has not yet filed for insolvency but sources said that administration is the "most likely" course of action.

The retailer has lined up accountancy firm KPMG to handle the process, according to Sky News.

Debenhams confirmed that it is "making contingency plans" in a bid to secure its future, with a view to reopening stores once the lockdown is removed. The retailer has already notified suppliers of a delay to payments and has requested a rental holiday from landlords.

A Debenhams spokesman said: "Like all retailers, Debenhams is making contingency plans reflecting the extraordinary current circumstances.

"Our owners and lenders remain highly supportive and whatever actions we may take will be with a view to protecting the business during the current situation.

"While our stores remain closed in line with Government guidance, and the majority of our store-facing colleagues have been furloughed, our website continues to trade and we are accepting customer orders, gift cards and returns."

Debenhams has furloughed store staff after it was forced to close its stores temporarily following the Government-mandated shutdown.

The department store business has closed 22 shops in recent months as part of plans to shut 50 sites and bring its total estate to 110.

If administrators are appointed, it will be the biggest retailer to become insolvent following the coronavirus shutdown.

Fashion and homewares chain Laura Ashley has also called in administrators after talks to save the business were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic. Laura Ashley had four stores in Northern Ireland and employed a total of 2,700 people around the UK.

At the time of its administration nearly three weeks ago Laura Ashley said it had seen an upturn in sales in recent weeks, with trading up 24% year on year for the seven weeks to March 13.

However, it said the Covid-19 outbreak has "had an immediate and significant impact on trading, and ongoing developments indicate that this will be a sustained national situation".

Earlier this week trade body Retail NI warned that hundreds of local businesses could go to the wall if a 12-month rates relief scheme rolled out in Britain is not introduced here.

Instead, small retailers and other businesses locally are getting a three-month rates holiday.

Belfast Telegraph