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21,000 UK retail jobs axed in 2019 as household names collapsed

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Thousands of workers lost their jobs as Thomas Cook collapsed in 2019. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

More than 21,000 retail workers lost their jobs as their employers collapsed into administration in 2019, according to new figures.

Analysis published on Monday lays bare the heavy toll on workers of the traditional high street’s decline over the past year.

The figures from commercial finance firm ABC Finance show the high-profile collapse of the world’s oldest travel agency Thomas Cook led to 6,500 job losses. It marked the biggest retail casualty of the year in terms of lost jobs.

Debenhams had the second highest job losses of any firm falling into administration last year, reportedly shedding 4,000 staff.

READ MORE: Worst year for retail jobs in ‘a quarter of a century’

The department store continues to trade after lenders took control of the business, but it is struggling to turn itself around and has just confirmed plans for 19 store closures this month.

The third highest job losses were said to be at clothing firm Bonmarche, with 2,900 jobs disappearing. It also continues to trade in administration, but its future remains up in the air.

The figures also point to some of the biggest casualties in administration of the past decade, including BHS (11,000 jobs), Comet (6,000 jobs), Poundworld (4,256 jobs), and Blockbuster (4,190).

The retail firms in administration that shed the most jobs in 2019, according to ABC Finance. Chart: ABC Finance

More than 125,000 jobs disappeared over the decade during administrations, according to the analysis.

Clothing was the sector of retail hit hardest by company collapses in the 2010s, according to ABC Finance, with ‘household essentials’ second.

Changing customer behaviour, lower disposable income, rising overheads such as rent and indebtedness from over-expansion were the most common problems, the research suggests.

Martin Newman, a consumer rights champion and branding expert, said retailers had faced a “perfect storm” in recent years.

“The political uncertainty has fuelled a fall in consumer confidence and a subsequent tightening of belts. This has led to various brands losing sales on a like for like basis.

“Also, companies opening [sic] too many stores. As maybe 25% to 35% of customers have migrated online, most of these sales are channel shift rather than being incremental.”

READ MORE: HMV and Debenhams latest retailers to announce store closures

More workers lost their jobs during BHS's collapse in 2016 than any other retail firm's administration in the decade, according to new figures. Photo: PA

Newman said Thomas Cook had been “too slow” to recognise the impact of consumers buying their own flights and accommodation online, and should have moved into selling flight-only packages.

Separate figures published last week painted a similarly bleak picture of the employment landscape in high street retail.

More than 140,000 jobs disappeared on UK high streets in 2019 alone, according to a report by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR). It looked at jobs lost at all retailers rather than only firms that had collapsed into administration.

That marked the worst year in employment on the high street for a quarter of a century, with job losses up by more than a fifth on the previous year.

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