The news of another big high street name going into administration has caused more shockwaves in Falkirk’s beleaguered town centre.
Jobs are at risk at the BHS store in Callendar Square in High Street after the company revealed a £571 million hole in its pension fund on Monday.
The company has 164 shops with around 11,000 employees in the UK and administrators Duff and Phelps have been called in after owners Retail Acquisitions failed to close a last-minute rescue deal.
According to a former staff member in Falkirk’s BHS, it employs around 30 people who have been left in a state of uncertainty of what their future holds.
The ex-worker, who asked not to be named, said: “I was there for about two years and really enjoyed it.
“I really feel for the staff at the moment, it must be really tough on them not knowing what is going to happen.
“Something needs to be done about the town centre, it’s becoming like a ghost town, where will it all end?”
Duff & Phelps have agreed to meet with the shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw, which represents a relatively small number of BHS employees, to discuss a way ahead that could save jobs.
Usdaw national officer David Gill said: “This is devastating news for the employees of BHS.
“I am pleased that administrators have listened to our request for a dialogue and agreed to meet us. Our priorities are to help turn around the company, secure jobs and get the best deal possible for staff. We continue to provide the advice, support and representation that our members require at this difficult and worrying time.”
Customers are also affected as BHS stores are now operating a limited refunds and returns policy as well as honouring just 50 per cent of the value of gift vouchers.
To use a £25 gift voucher you would have to buy goods to the value of £50.
It’s been a bad week economically in Falkirk as the BHS announcement came seven days after Carron Phoenix said its plant at the Carron Works is closing moving production to Slovakia with the loss of around 200 local jobs.
The retail jobs also have a far-reaching impact, especially in the east end of High Street, which has suffered from a lack of investment in recent years.
Councillor Dennis Goldie, Falkirk Council’s spokesperson for Economic Development, said: “The news on BHS going into administration is of significant concern for the town. We do hope that a buyer is found for this national chain and that the jobs at stores such as Falkirk can be retained.
“Of course this news follows hard on the heels of last week’s devastating announcement on the intended closure of the Carron Phoenix plant and the potential loss of 211 jobs at their site.
“While the council will be doing all it can to help tackle the effects in each of these situations, it demonstrates the extremely tough market conditions facing our economy.”
Despite the doom and gloom, there is an upbeat message that the local economy can survive the latest setback.
Leader of Falkirk Council Craig Martin says Falkirk’s high street strength comes from local traders and independent businesses.
He said: “Shops that have closed in Falkirk have, mostly, not been local. It’s the independent stores we have that are keeping the town centre going which shows the strength of our traders.
“It is company directors who are making these decisions that have nothing to do with conditions in Falkirk.”
HOPE FOR A FUTURE
A BHS closure could have a devastating effect on Callendar Square where the store is situated as it currently has a number of empty units, but its profitability could save it.
Alex Fleming, manager of town centre management BID group Falkirk Delivers, said: “This is very sad news.
“The BHS store is certainly an anchor one for Callendar Square and I would not like to see it go the same way Woolworth’s did.
“The Falkirk store has always been quite a profitable store as far as we are aware from management meetings so perhaps it would stand it in better stead and make it easier to find a buyer.”
Management at Callendar Square were approached for comment but did not respond.
If BHS does go bust and close, it will follow other major names like HMV, WH Smith, Burger King, Woolworths, Comet and Littlewoods to vanish from Falkirk’s town centre landscape.
The company is still trading and has around 50 expressions of interest giving workers hope of a future.
Interested parties are investigating buying all of the 88-year-old business or parts of it. Administrators Duff & Phelps have been tasked with find a buyer.
A statement on the BHS website reads: “The Group has been undergoing restructuring and, as has been widely reported, the shareholders have been in negotiations to find a buyer for the business. These negotiations have been unsuccessful.
“The Group will continue to trade as usual whilst the Administrators seek to sell it as a going concern. Further announcements will be made as appropriate in due course.”