The future of Edinburgh’s iconic Jenners, a House of Fraser store on Princes Street, was put at risk last week as the firm went into administration.
It’s midmarket businesses like Jenners that are feeling the squeeze on the High Street the most as they aren’t a discounter like TK Maxx or a high-end, exclusive, luxury brand and therefore are finding it increasingly difficult to compete in a crowded market place.
The struggles in this sector became apparent in 2016 when BHS, another prior feature of Princes Street went under, costing thousands of jobs across the UK and pension fears for former employees as owner Sir Philip Green was accused by the Pensions Regulator of offloading the business in order to prevent taking on liability for the pensions.
It was therefore a relief for the workers at Jenners that Mike Ashley, the multimillionaire owner of Sports Direct, stepped in to announce that he would buy out the firm for £90 million with a pledge to keep as many stores as possible open. However, a brief examination of his other businesses’ employment history will cause some Jenners employees to raise an eyebrow I’m sure.
Trade unions have warned that it would be a backward step if Sports Direct’s poor record on pay and employment practices were transferred over to the House of Fraser. At a time of great uncertainty and worry for workers, it’s vital the new owners engage and support trade union engagement in the workplace.