Jobs at risk in Suffolk as WH Smith makes ‘significant’ staff cuts

WH Smith in Westgate Street, Ipswich in the former Crown and Anchor hotel

WH Smith in Westgate Street, Ipswich in the former Crown and Anchor hotel - Credit: Archant

Jobs in Suffolk could be at risk as WH Smith plans to cut up to 1,500 jobs nationwide due to the firm’s slow recovery from Covid-19.

The retailer, which runs stores in North Street, Sudbury, Westgate Street in Ipswich and Cornhill in Bury St Edmunds, said it is starting to consult with staff over plans that could see many of them losing their roles.

It has not been announced where the job cuts will come, but it is expected they will mainly hit the shop floors of WH Smith’s sites in train stations and airports – a worry for staff at Ipswich Station.

Most of the high street jobs cuts are expected to be among managers.

Despite the deep job cuts, only around 14 of WH Smith’s shops are going to close and these are very small ones, employing around 50 people between them.

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The company said it needs to reduce costs, as its shops in airports and railway stations have been hit by low passenger numbers. Its high street stores have also suffered from low footfall.

It said just over half of its UK travel shops have reopened and that 246 of its largest sites have started trading again.

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All 575 of its high street stores have opened, the business said, but footfall is strongly down compared with last year.

Revenue was 57% lower last month compared with July 2019, even as sites started to welcome customers back, with most of this loss coming from the travel arm.

“We now need to take further action to reduce costs across our businesses,” said chief executive Carl Cowling.

“I regret that this will have an impact on a significant number of colleagues whose roles will be affected by these necessary actions, and we will do everything we can to support them at this challenging time.”

Although travel revenue has started to recover from April, when it was down 92% on last year, sales were still nearly three-quarters lower in July.

The high street business, meanwhile, has gone from 71% down in April to 25% down in July compared with the same months in 2019.

The US arm should recover quicker, the company said, as most flyers travel domestically.

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Revenue in the travel business there is down 80%, but the 147 open stores are seeing an “encouraging performance,” WH Smith said.

The company said its loss before tax is likely to reach between £70 million and £75 million for the year ending August 31. The results will be announced in November.

Mr Cowling added: “Covid-19 continues to have a significant impact on the WH Smith Group. Throughout the pandemic, we have responded quickly and taken decisive actions to protect the business, including substantially strengthening our financial position. We have also welcomed support from Government where available.”

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