The Scottish Government will be engaging with John Lewis over plans to close its Aberdeen store, the first minister has confirmed.
The retailing giant announced plans on Wednesday to permanently shut its Aberdeen store, in another blow for the city centre, following a raft of retail closures this year.
North-east MSP Liam Kerr told Nicola Sturgeon the city was “rocked” by the announcement the store would close after more than 30 years in the city, with a total of 265 employees impacted in the north-east.
However, the first minister denied Mr Kerr’s assertion that the Scottish Government’s decision to delay the business rates revaluation was a factor in the decision to close the store.
Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “The news from John Lewis this morning is a real blow to Aberdeen and my thoughts are with all the employees who will be affected.
“As the member is aware, the Aberdeen store is the only one in Scotland but one of a number across the UK that John Lewis has decided not to reopen after lockdown.
“So I think the reason he puts forward for that simply doesn’t bear any scrutiny at all but he does raise an important issue and he’s right to raise it.”
Rates and oil prices
Many businesses in the north-east claim they are paying “eyewatering” business rates as the last revaluation, which was introduced in 2017 and based on a 2015 valuation, had failed to take into account the decline in the oil price on firms in Aberdeen and the surrounding area.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed the Scottish Government will be engaging with John Lewis directly and Aberdeen City Council, adding the PACE initiative would be available for affected employees.
The scheme offers free and impartial advice to all individuals affected by redundancy, no matter the size of the business or how many employees are involved.
The first minister added: “The revitalisation of our high streets is going to be one of the real priorities as we come out of lockdown and out of this pandemic and there is work we will do with local authorities, with the Scottish Retail Consortium to make sure we are taking forward the right steps there.
“But in the short term we will do everything we can to support the affected employees.”
John Lewis in consultation with workers
The Aberdeen store is one of eight John Lewis shops proposed for closure, as the retailing giant rebalances its estate as customers’ shopping habits change.
The John Lewis Partnership is entering into consultation with the affected workers, with around 250 employees impacted in the Granite City.
The department store believes that the performance of these stores cannot be “substantially improved” with them expecting 60-70% of sales to be made online in the future.
Already this year, the city centre has lost Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, Burtons, Wallis and Topshop/Topman.
Mr Kerr said the announcement is “absolutely catastrophic” for the city, just weeks after retailer Debenhams also closed its doors.
He added: “John Lewis is one of the city’s biggest retail employers and now hundreds of hardworking staff face losing their jobs – it’s devastating.
“My thoughts go to all of the staff at John Lewis who are in this position through no fault of their own.
“The city’s retail sector is being completely decimated by these large-scale closures and an emergency package of support must be given from the Scottish Government to support Aberdeen and the staff affected.”