Co-op in talks over stores' future

HOPES have been raised that 140 jobs at four Co-op department stores in East Anglia could be saved.

HOPES have been raised that 140 jobs at four Co-op department stores in East Anglia could be saved.

The East of England Co-op announced two months ago that stores in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Clacton-on-Sea and Witham faced closure, with the staff entering a consultation period that could lead to redundancies.

At the time, chief executive Richard Samson said the four stores had underperformed and had failed to make a profit. “We don't wish to let our customers down but sadly these stores are no longer viable in their present formats,” he said.

However, the society has now revealed that it is in discussion with another retail operator with a view to that organisation taking over the four stores as a going concern, with the deal securing the future of the 140 employees involved.

Mr Samson said: “We are in negotiation with another retailer to take over the four department stores that are at risk.

“It is our hope that these negotiations will be successful and we will be able to secure the jobs of all our employees at the four stores concerned.”

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He added: “In view of the confidential nature of these discussions, we cannot give any more information at present, but hope to be able to make a further announcement in the next few weeks.”

Although the Co-op declined to comment on the identity of the potential buyer, industry watchers said the group was unlikely to have publicly raised the hopes of its staff and customers unless it was confident of completing the deal.

Names that have been mentioned as possible suitors for the four stores include Norwich-based QD Stores, Roys of Wroxham and the Anglia Regional Co-operative Society, although a spokesman for the Anglia Co-op has ruled the group out.

One analyst said the East of England Co-op would be keen to offload the department stores as a going concern, even if it meant selling them for a nominal sum.

“As well as the unsold stock and the fact the staff at the Co-op would probably have generous [redund-ancy] packages, the business is not going to want to be paying rates on empty buildings that it will be hard to sell at the moment,” he said.