Sheffield MP attacks John Lewis decision not to reopen for 'post lockdown shopping boom'
A Sheffield MP finds it ‘incomprehensible’ that John Lewis will not reopen its city centre store to benefit from a post-lockdown shopping boom.
Paul Blomfield said the decision to keep the popular and profitable Barker’s Pool shop closed on Monday was ‘ill-judged’.
People are predicted to flock back to the shops when a three-month lockdown eases on Monday April 12.
The company last month announced plans to leave Sheffield for good, putting 299 jobs at risk.
Mr Blomfield insisted there were a string of factors in John Lewis’s favour including huge savings on rent in a new deal with Sheffield City Council - which also offered to revamp the building - the nearby £480m Heart of the City development set to attract shoppers, a big rise in city centre living creating more local customers and a 23,000-strong petition urging the business to stay.
He was one of four Sheffield MPs who met chief executive Sharon White and executive director Pippa Wicks last week.
But he still did not understand why the company was closing.
He said: “They said it was profitable when the firm signed the new deal with the council last summer but they were unable to say what had changed since then.
“They anticipated trade would not come back and there would be a permanent shift to online shopping. But they are making assumptions during a pandemic. It would have made sense to test them by reopening, at least for a trial period.
“It is incomprehensible that they aren’t hanging around to benefit from the post lockdown boom.”
Mr Blomfield added: “This company has been spectacularly successful but has made some fairly bad decisions in recent years including investing in new shops they are now closing.
“They are not infallible.”
Meanwhile Sheffield City Council had ‘bent over backwards’ to get them to stay. The authority spent £3.4m buying John Lewis out of its lease and renting the building back on a much-reduced rate based on turnover.
The employee-owned company also plans to close seven other stores it says it ‘cannot profitably sustain’.
It is consulting with staff ahead of a final decision in June.
Mr Blomfield added: “I hope it is a genuine consultation with partners and leads to a reconsideration of what appears to be an ill-judged decision.
“They should stick with the Sheffield shop, which was successful when they signed the deal last year and could be more successful if they committed to invest.”
A John Lewis spokesman said: “We feel it is inappropriate to discuss the conversation further. Our priority remains supporting our Partners through the consultation process.”
Last month, executive director Pippa Wicks was quoted as saying Sheffield could be home to one of 20 planned ‘smaller format’ stores and they were ‘in really constructive conversations with Sheffield - there are good customers and potential sites that might be appropriate’.
Ms Wicks joined the company from the Co-op in August. Sharon White is a former civil servant and chief executive of Ofcom who joined in 2019.