They say a week’s a long time in Politics?
You want to try life in retail mate, given the events of the last 48 hours...
Then again, retail might be the very lastplace you’d like to find yourself, especially if you were one of the 17,000 people watching anxiously as the Chinese deal to rescue about half of House of Fraser fell apart and the whole business started heading rapidly into adminstrattion.
Belfast may well have been one of the top five performing stores since it opened 10 years ago this year at Victoria Square, but that’s little consolation to anyone if the entire company ends up in the skip.
On Thursday night it was assumed that the firm had around a week to try and chase down some more cash but, lo and behold, Friday morning saw the statement that the business was, in fact, going into administration. Now.
Equally rapidly, of course, it emerged that Mike Ashley was waiting in the wings to buy the business for £90m.
There was a higher bid to take the company without forcing it into administration and assuming responsibility for the pension scheme for which Mr Ashely will have none.
However, the pension fund is apparently healthy and will now be managed by the professional trustees who, incidentally, are from Belfast based firm Dalriada.
The whole thing even prodded the Chancellor into action with a suggestion that the Government ‘might do something’ about business rates and the fact that while the earth-bound retail community gets hammered, the ethereal click brigade get away virtually scot free.
And that’s a big problem. Bigger even than pensions because, if we can’t extract rates from business at the level we used to before the internet and we have to drop them so that they can compete, then where does the missing revenue come from?
Don’t forget, also, the landlords whose rental incomes are being slashed by CVAs. And then there are the pension funds who invest in the property firms to support their members.
On balance, probably the best thing we can say is that House of Fraser didn’t close its doors on Friday. As for retail? Well...