Business

Beales boss: 'Councils really don't care'

Beales department store in Bournemouth Image copyright Alamy

Councils "really don't care" about supporting High Street trading, the boss of struggling department store chain Beales has told the BBC.

Beales, which began trading in Bournemouth in 1881, has warned that it could fall into administration.

The company runs 22 stores across the UK and about 1,000 jobs are at stake.

"We've only managed to get one council to help us out on a temporary basis," Beales boss Tony Brown told the BBC's Today programme.

"At the moment, in my view councils really don't care. They get their business rates, whether we're there or not, because the landlord pays if the store closes."

Mr Brown said that his current focus was trying to secure a "profitable future" for the department store. Several options are being considered, including seeking a buyer, negotiating rent reductions with landlords, and restructuring the business by closing some stores.

"In the towns in which we trade in, we are the retail heartbeat of that town centre," he said.

He stressed that landlords were "mostly" helpful and could see a long-term future for the business, but he has felt let down by local and central government.

"For example, in a number of our stores, I pay three or four times more business rates than I do rent. Now, that can't be right," he said.

He added that "the sheer weight of the additional costs that are piled upon us - if you take the pension increases, you take rates, you take changes in the way we can apply for lending - there is a co-ordinated effort, or what feels like it, to make it as difficult as possible [to trade on the High Street]."

In the year to March 2019, Beales reported a loss of £3.1m, up from a loss of £1.3m for the year earlier, as costs swelled and sales dipped.

Struggling sector

Beales is by no means the only High Street chain to be struggling.

Last week, the British Retail Consortium said that UK retail sales fell 0.1% last year, marking the first annual sales decline since 1995.

It added that sales in November and December were particularly weak, dropping 0.9%.

Last week also saw the John Lewis Partnership reporting a fall in festive sales at its department store chain. It warned that its staff bonus may be in doubt as profits were expected to be "substantially down on last year".

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