The high street is hell – but the insolvency trade's booming

Peacocks is latest to hit trouble, putting 11,000 jobs at risk – and keeping administrators busy
  • @Thompj

Dark days for Britain's high streets are becoming boom times for insolvency practitioners, who look set to pick up another windfall thanks to the debt-laden fashion chain Peacocks and the troubled gifts retailer Past Times.

In separate processes, both companies sought yesterday to enlist the services of the administrator KPMG, which has already secured lucrative fees for its work with other retailers over Christmas. The accountant was the adviser when the outdoor goods chain Blacks Leisure and the lingerie retailer La Senza were bought out of administration earlier this month.

By formally appointing KPMG as its administrator last night, the retro-themed retailer Past Times has put a further 500 staff and 51 stores at risk, after earlier closing 46 shops and making 507 workers redundant.

The Peacock Group could become retailing's biggest collapse since Woolworths was closed in January 2009 with the loss of 30,000 jobs. The company, which has 11,000 staff, 611 Peacocks stores and 394 Bonmarché shops, is the largest of the chains in recent trouble. Peacocks and Bonmarché are not yet in administration but have filed notices of intention and now have just 10 working days to deliver rescue deals.

Bonmarché, which has 2,000 staff, is likely to be sold out of pre-packaged administration this week to the private equity investor Sun European Partners. The outlook appears less certain for the 9,000 staff at Peacocks, which accounts for the bulk of its parent company's £240m of debt.

Peacocks has been in talks with 15 lenders about trying to restructure its borrowings. But Royal Bank of Scotland, which is 82 per cent owned by the state, has ended its involvement in the talks, bringing the situation to a head.

A spokesman for RBS said: "Each company restructure is judged on its own merits, but clearly the difficult conditions retailers face is an important factor. New investors willing to inject sufficient capital could not be found."

The Peacock Group confirmed the talks had ended without agreement being reached. A spokesman said: "To protect the business, while discussions with such investors are progressed, the directors have filed a notice of intention to appoint an administrator."

Even if new financing can be found, the retailer's debt mountain means a pre-packaged administration now seems almost certain.