Anglia set to sell off Westgate stores

The Peterborough-based Anglia Co-operative has agreed to sell 19 department stores to independent store chain Beales for £7.5 million.

The deal which, was announced to the Stock Exchange this morning, is expected to be completed by the end of next month and effectively signals the end of the society’s involvement in the sector.

However Anglia will retain the freeholds of the premises and Beales will operate the stores under a series of leases, lease assignments and sub-lets. The sell-off safeguards 900 full and part-time jobs as all affected staff members — including some head office personnel — will transfer to Beale PLC.

Anglia will continue to operate the furniture, travel, optical and hairdressing departments within the stores and society members will continue to be able to earn points and redeem dividend at Westgate outlets. 

The stores — many of them acquired from the Co-operative Group and the former United Society in 2005 and 2006 — are in Beccles, Bishop Auckland, Chipping Norton, Cinderford, Diss, Harrogate, Keighley, King’s Lynn, Lowestoft, Mansfield, Peterborough, Redcar, Saffron Walden, Skegness, Skipton, Spalding, St Neots and Wisbech plus the Contact Electrical/Comfortmaker outlet in Abingdon. 

In addition, the Westgate store in March is likely to close in the near future with the loss of six full-time and 19 part-time jobs pending the completion of a proposed sale to a developer.

Chief Executive John Chillcott told the News that the society’s three remaining stores — in Scunthorpe, Hartlepool and Blyth — will be retained for the time being, but he said management would be “reviewing the format and pursuing any opportunities that give the stores and the staff the best prospects for the future”.

Mr Chillcott said that, following a review of the stores, it had been concluded the business was unsustainable in the long term and that the prospects for recovery were bleak, given the UK’s challenging retailing environment.

“In that context, I am pleased the society has been able to find a purchaser of the business as a going concern,” said Mr Chillcott. “Anglia will have a significant investment interest in Beales’ enlarged business and we are helping to protect 900 jobs.

“As a result of this deal, Anglia will be better able to invest in the growth and development of its food, funerals, travel, optical and AHF furniture businesses.”

The proposed deal with Anglia takes Beales’ store portfolio to 32 nationwide and includes the former Co-op department store in Rochdale, which was acquired from Anglia for a reported £300,000 last year.

Shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, has expressed disappointment that the deal was announced to the Stock Exchange in London before affected staff were informed.

Usdaw National Officer Sharon Ainsworth told the News: “The announcement came as a shock to members and it will no doubt cause some uncertainty and worry. However, Usdaw believes the deal could be in the best interests of staff and may help secure the long term future of the business. 

“It is extremely regrettable however, that the proposed sale was announced on the London Stock Exchange first and before the society’s staff were told, but legal rules apparently meant this was unavoidable.”

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