BHS Kirkcaldy staffs’ anger as jobs go and a landmark store shuts for good

BHS Kirkcaldy - the first BHS to open in Scotland in 1964
BHS Kirkcaldy - the first BHS to open in Scotland in 1964

BHS staff in Kirkcaldy have expressed anger and devastation following news the business is to be wound down.

The High Street store - the first BHS in Scotland when it opened in 1964 - is to close after administrators failed to secure a rescue bid for the stricken retailer.

The announcement came after weeks of negotiation initially raised hopes amongst Kirkcaldy’s team of around 30 staff that jobs could be saved.

“We thought some shops would go but not the whole company. Kirkcaldy was profitable,” the employee said.

“A lot of staff here have worked for years and years and we’re like a family; it’s devastating.”

The employee added: “Some customers have been quite nasty and thoughtless.

“We had one man who said ‘gie’s a job’ and another who said ‘you’ll all be at the job centre soon’ however the majority have been fantastic and really kind - and we feel for our regulars, especially the elderly.”

Administrators Duff & Phelps said last week that despite considerable efforts it had not been possible to agree a sale of the business.

Although multiple offers were received, including a last-minute bid by former Mothercare boss, Greg Tufnell (Richness Group), none were able to complete a deal due to the working capital required to secure the future of the company.

As a result all 163 BHS stores will be in close down sale mode over the coming weeks and whilst continuing efforts will be made to sell stores, staff jobs are likely to go.

Meanwhile, a government select committee continues to investigate Topshop tycoon Philip Green’s controversial £1 sale of BHS last year which left a pension black hole of £571 million.

A government deal to bail out the pension deficit could still see some employees being paid ten percent less than they were due.

“We didn’t know about the troubles the company was in until after Philip Green left,” said a local BHS employee.

“When he sold the company for £1 that made us scared.

“He says he’s devastated by this but, while he sits on his yacht, is he going to find us another job? No!

“He took money from this company for years and nobody stepped in to do a thing.

“Why was nobody interested then? Where were the pension regulators then?

“How can you sell a company for £1 to man who was previously bankrupt?”

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw said shock waves would be felt on high streets across the UK.

Dave Gill, national officer, added: “Whilst former and current senior people from BHS engage in a round of finger pointing, 11,000 staff are staring down the barrel of a gun, facing unemployment in the next few weeks.

“We know there are very serious questions that need to be answered about the past, but I’m urging administrators to redouble efforts to find a buyer, it’s the least BHS staff deserve.”

Bill Harvey, Kirkcaldy4all said: “Our thoughts are with the staff. It’s a blow to them and a blow to Kirkcaldy to lose such a well-known name and such a large retail space.

“The factors which led to this are well out of our control. It’s not a reflection on the town or staff; it’s a failed business model.”

Mr Harvey pledged Kirkcaldy4All would work to attract a new retailer to the unit.

Philip Green has come under fire after it emerged BHS collapsed with a pension deficit of £571m despite the tycoon and other investors collecting more than £580m in dividends, rent and interest payments during his ownership.

Green - who has been dubbed the ‘King of the High Street’ - bought the 88 year-old company in 2000 and sold it last year for £1 to former bankrupt Dominic Chappell.

As the Business and the Work and Pensions Committee hear evidence from Chappell this week, Conservative MP David Davis said Green’s management was “little else than asset stripping”, while Roger Mullin, the SNP Treasury spokesman called on the government to clamp down on “unscrupulous chancers”.

Mr Mullin, who represents Kirkcaldy, added “The BHS store will be sorely missed, having been a focal point of high street retail for many decades.

“BHS employees have contributed to their pensions, many over a lifetime, and now find that because of Green’s failure as a businessman, they face redundancy and great anxiety about their pensions. I will continue to press the UK Government to readdress the regulation of the pensions industry to ensure the protection of workers who find themselves in the dreadful situation of paying pension contributions throughout their working lives, only to find there is no pension forthcoming upon retirement.”