Published: 10:46, 25 January 2021
| Updated: 10:54, 25 January 2021
Any hopes the county's two surviving Debenhams stores could keep trading have ended after the 242-year-old brand was sold to online fashion retailer Boohoo.
The retail giant fell into administration and then liquidation last year after years of trying to balance the books amid a changing retail landscape.
But Boohoo has no plans to keep any of Debenhams' remaining 118 retail outlets open - a move which will likely see 12,000 job losses nationwide.
The decision was described as a "devastating blow to the high street" by one union.
Boohoo has bought the Debenhams brand and website in a deal worth £55million. It will mean it will sell Debenhams products online from next year.
Boohoo said the deal represents a “fantastic opportunity” to target new customers and launch into the beauty, sports and homewares market for the first time.
Boohoo chief executive John Lyttle said: “The acquisition of the Debenhams brand is an important development for the group, as we seek to capture incremental growth opportunities arising from the accelerating shift to online retail.”
Boohoo has previously bought a number of well-known high street brands out of administration, turning them into online-only operations, including Oasis, Coast and Karen Millen - a fashion chain first founded in Maidstone.
Geoff Rowley, joint administrator for Debenhams and partner of FRP Advisory, said: “We are pleased to have secured the future for this great brand, and to have created the opportunity for a new Debenhams-branded business to emerge in a different shape beyond the pandemic.
“I expect that the agreement with Boohoo may provide some job opportunities but we regret that this outcome does not safeguard the jobs of Debenhams’ employees beyond the winding-down period.”
Retail trade union Usdaw said it was seeking "urgent meetings" with Debenhams’ administrators after the news and called on government help to protect the high street.
After years of decline, it has been devastated by the enforced lockdowns over the last 10 months.
Dave Gill, Usdaw national officer, said: “It is devastating news for our high streets that Debenhams’ administrators have sold the company brand to an online only retailer. Throughout Debenhams’ difficulties the company and then administrators have refused to engage with Usdaw, the staff are being treated appallingly.
“Last summer, redundancies were made by conference call, with no meaningful consultation or proper notice period, as required by law. That must not happen again and we urge the administrators to engage with Usdaw, the trade union for Debenhams staff. It is crucial that they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
“Nearly 180,000 retail job losses and around 20,000 store closures last year were absolutely devastating and lay bare the scale of the challenge the industry faces. Each one of those job losses is a personal tragedy for the individual worker and store closures are scarring our high streets and communities.
“What retail needs is a joined up strategy of unions, employers and government working together to develop a recovery plan.
“There are substantial issues that need to be addressed likes rents, rates and taxation, to create a level playing field between high streets and online retail. That is clearly demonstrated by today’s announcement.
“Retail is crucial to our town and city centres, it employs around three million people across the UK. The Government must take this seriously; we need a recovery plan to get the industry back on its feet.”