Job fears amid more retail failures

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of high street jobs were lost or put at risk today as the tally of retail failures mounted and more firms signalled plans to shut stores.

The deepening of the crisis facing the high street - driven by the squeeze on consumer spending power - saw department store chain TJ Hughes move to appoint administrators in a potential failure putting 4,000 jobs in danger.

A further 400 jobs were lost at fashion chain Jane Norman today after administrators confirmed the closure of 33 out of 94 stores, although 33 and the brand were sold to knitwear chain Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

As well as the growing tally of retail failures, which have included the recent collapse of Habitat UK and Moben kitchens owner HomeForm, towns and cities were being braced for a major retrenchment by retail chains.

Thorntons signalled it will cut at least 120 outlets over the next three years as leases expire, while it will also consider the future of an additional 60 shops in a move that could put up to 1,125 jobs at risk.

The strategy will see it almost halve its store numbers over the next three years as it sells more chocolates through supermarkets and online.

And Carpetright, which today reported a 70% slide in full-year profits, said it will close more stores in an effort to weather the consumer downturn.

It said the trend for consumers to conduct research online before making their purchase meant it could reduce the density of its UK estate.

Chains such as HMV, Game and JJB Sports, which have long been the mainstay of UK high streets, are also slimming down their store estates. And Mothercare said recently that it would axe 110 shops in order to focus its trading on out-of-town locations.

Kate Calvert, a retail analyst at Seymour Pierce, said: "People have less money in their pockets because wages are not keeping up with inflation and there's still the issue of redundancies hanging over people's heads.

"We can expect more closures and bad news to come until the Government eases the tax burden on consumers.

"Smaller companies will be the most vulnerable. This is all part of having a national debt and we just have to grin and bear it."

Maureen Hinton, practice leader at research firm Verdict Retail, said many retailers had recently received their quarterly rent bill, which had proved "the final nail in their coffin" and caused a spate of casualties.

The Government recently appointed retail guru Mary Portas - star of Mary Queen of Shops - to advise on how to breathe new life into the high street. The recent spate of bad news means her job just got harder.