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Coronavirus: Selfridges axes 450 jobs in 'toughest year in recent history'

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
A woman is seen holding a selfridges shopping bag on London�s Oxford Street after the shops were allowed to reopen. (Photo by Dave Rushen / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Selfridges is slashing jobs. Photo: Dave Rushen / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

Selfridges has announced plans to slash around 450 jobs, becoming the latest major retailer to wield the axe as the coronavirus hammers Britain’s high streets.

The department store said it would slash around 14% of its entire workforce, as it battles to get through the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.

The company blamed the “toughest year we have experienced in our recent history” for the job cuts. A string of household names have already slashed thousands of jobs or warned they are at risk in recent weeks, including Debenhams, John Lewis and Boots.

A letter to staff by its group managing director Anne Pitcher reads: “Like may others, we are feeling the effects and acknowledge that recovery will be slow, with sales this year forecast to be significantly less than they were in 2019.

READ MORE: Greggs bakery sales at 72% of pre-crisis levels

“Nobody imagined when we started the year that things would unfold like this and lead us to having to make such momentous decisions. It is a huge responsibility and I appreciate how incredibly unsettling receiving this news today must feel, prompting all sorts of thoughts and emotions.”

Consultation has been promised with team and trade union representatives, and team members will be able to apply for voluntary redundancy. Other “flexible options” may be offered to some workers, including different working hours, career breaks, and sabbaticals, in a bid to limit the number of redundancies needed.

Pitcher said whether or not employees had been furloughed would have no impact on how likely their role would be affected.

The company is also “leaving no stone unturned” in looking for ways to review costs including non-essential expenditure and pausing some projects and initiatives.

READ MORE: UK employers have axed 650,000 jobs since March

Pitcher called the likely job losses “the toughest decision we have ever had to take,” but pointed to the challenges already facing high streets before the pandemic struck. She said the company had led the way in adapting, but the “speed and magnitude” of change during the pandemic had forced more fundamental reforms to sustain the business.

The company was been voted the world’s best department store several times, and its bright yellow bags have become iconic in themselves. But months of lockdown and only a slow and partial recovery in footfall amid continued virus fears and the wider downturn have taken a heavy toll on many leading high street names.

Department store rival John Lewis has announced eight stores will close, putting up to 1,300 jobs at risk. Analysis by PA in early July suggested more than 60 major British employers had warned at least 150,000 jobs would be axed or were at risk since lockdown began in March.

Benefit claims have already soared and official unemployment figures are expected to surge this year as the economy suffers an unprecedented hit from the pandemic.