Jools to rescue as Mothercare loses £103m

There were signs of a turnaround at struggling Mothercare yesterday, with partial thanks going to TV chef Jamie Oliver's wife Jools for her Little Bird clothing range.

The new chief executive Simon Calver has a job on his hands – the babycare business fell to a £103m loss in the year to March. But it said UK like-for-like sales in the second quarter are at least going in the right direction, up 0.3 per cent. The rise compares with falls of 6.7 per cent and 8.2 per cent in the previous two quarters.

Mr Calver and the chairman Alan Parker have devised a plan to shut 150 UK stores, 50 of them this year, leaving it with 200 profitable branches. Total UK sales fell 6.2 per cent due to the store closures.

The dividend has been axed while the restructuring takes place.

The relatively good UK news was tempered with a note of caution about the overseas operations, previously a source of strength. Mr Calver warned that achieving Mothercare's full-year inter-national sales growth target of 20 per cent was "going to be a challenge." Mothercare has 1,100 branches across 60 countries, and is increasing its store numbers in the Bric economies and the Middle East.

Mr Calver, who joined Mothercare in April from Amazon's LoveFilm division, added: "Our strategy outlined in May this year is showing early signs of progress."

Keith Bowman, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Mr Calver had "made a good start".