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Property sales put Liberty back in the black

LIBERTY, the struggling Regent Street department store group, announced a modest return to the black yesterday, although the feat was only achieved by a boost from property proceeds.

Pre-tax, Liberty achieved a profit of pounds 152,000 in the full year to January, thanks to pounds 2.4m from the property division and discontinued businesses. But at the trading level, operating losses increased from pounds 462,000 to pounds 712,000 last year.

Separately, the company announced a new pounds 23m banking facility with Barclays, including a pounds 16m loan to continue improvements at the London store.

Michele Jobling, managing director, said that after a difficult year the company was now turning the corner. "Although much remains to be done, the new management have worked to establish a solid foundation on which to build over the next several years," she said.

A new advertising campaign will be launched in the autumn alongside a cost drive to reposition the business for the future.

Having thrown out the pounds 43m redevelopment programme put forward by the previous board, which was removed in 1997, the new team is pressing ahead with a pounds 10m overhaul of the flagship mock-Tudor building. New lifts and better lighting will be introduced to entice more shoppers to the upper storeys.

More concessions selling branded goods will be introduced and a mail- order catalogue will be produced in the autumn. The company is also looking at selling goods on the Internet.