Lewis to pay lowest bonus for 20 years

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The Independent Online
THE 34,000 staff of John Lewis Partnership, the retail group, look set to receive their smallest bonus for 20 years when the results for the year ending yesterday are reported next month.

Stuart Hampson, who today takes over from Peter Lewis as chairman of JLP, Britain's largest worker co-operative, concedes the year has been 'difficult' but refuses to be drawn on the bonus.

JLP's Waitrose supermarkets arm has been badly hit by new openings by rival supermarkets and by Sunday trading, which the group refuses to do. Stripping out new stores, sales are running 6 per cent lower.

Although the department stores have had a better second half, they have a lot of catching up to do after flat sales in the six months to July. But Mr Hampson said: 'We've had a good Christmas and a good January.'

Falling interest rates should also help, but it is unlikely that the bonus could be responsibly maintained without jeopardising the capital expenditure programme this year. The group plans to keep investment at similar levels to last year, opening four new supermarkets.

Staff, or 'partners', see the bonus as an important component of pay. It has been as high as 24 per cent of salary, but has fallen each year for five years. Last year it was 9 per cent - averaging pounds 955 per employee.

Mr Hampson said there would be no dramatic changes in strategy. The two main trading formats would carry on in the same direction. 'Our approach of being honest, safe, reliable and understated is going to match the mood of the 1990s,' he said.

He hit out at the illegal Sunday opening of others, saying it cost Waitrose pounds 1m a week in lost sales. 'That's the equivalent to someone burning down five of our supermarkets.'

He sees no need for across-the- board cost-cutting. 'We're pretty lean. There's no major redundancy programme around the corner.'