Hope for 4,300 jobs as Blacks stores saved

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The Independent Online

The future of Blacks Leisure and more than 4,000 retail jobs were secured today after landlords gave their "overwhelming" support to a rescue deal.

Creditors voted in favour of a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) to a restructure of the outdoor chain aimed at ensuring its survival, with more than 97 per cent giving their support.

Blacks, which said the move would safeguard 4,300 jobs, asked landlords of 89 closed or closing retail stores to accept lower financial claims on the firm.

The retailer has put aside a pot of £7.25 million to compensate just over 100 landlords of retail stores and other sites, equivalent to around six months' rent each, in return for cancelling its long-term lease obligations.

Blacks' chief executive Neil Gillis said: "We are delighted with the overwhelming support the CVA proposals have received today, being passed almost unanimously, with votes in excess of 97 per cent in both cases.

"This outcome is a powerful endorsement by the creditors of the company that the CVA is in the best interests of all concerned."



Blacks' restructuring also includes new terms for 291 of its stores, allowing monthly payments for a year and a half.

The retailer has agreed new banking facilities of £42.5 million with its lender Lloyds Banking Group as part of the plan.

Blacks will be left with 314 stores and one distribution centre after the proposed restructuring, including a number of sites that are not included in the CVA.

The firm, which has its headquarters in Northampton, will operate from 91 Blacks stores, 208 Millets outlets and 15 Freespirit shops.

Blacks suffered pre-tax losses of £18.1 million in the six months to August 26, up from £6.7 million losses a year earlier, as its boardwear division and underperforming Blacks and Millets stores dragged the group down.

The Blacks CVA is expected to come into effect on or around December 23.

Mr Gillis added: "The process addresses a long-standing issue at the heart of the group's difficulties in recent years - its tail of unprofitable stores - creating a significantly stronger business and, crucially, preserving over 4,000 jobs.

"With this support secured, we can now focus on realising the potential of the group's market leadership position in outdoor retail once again."

Shares in Blacks Leisure surged 36 per cent today, but landlords have voiced their disquiet at the level of compensation from the deal and the use of CVAs generally.

The British Property Federation (BPF), which counts some of the country's largest landlords among its members, said yesterdaythe average lease for a Blacks property was 12 years and the retailer would "walk away from many hundreds of years-worth of rent" with the deal.

According to the BPF, landlords felt the choice was between the CVA or a "pre-pack" administration - where the business collapses and is then sold immediately out of administration following a pre-arranged deal to shed unwanted assets - which could have left them with nothing.

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