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Primark takes £248m hit as stock piles up

PUBLISHED: 10:00 21 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:00 21 April 2020

Primark closes its doors to the public   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Primark closes its doors to the public Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Shopworkers at Ipswich’s Primark are among 68,000 staff furloughed across Europe by the budget fashion chain amid the coronavirus crisis, according to figures released by the chain’s owners.

Notice to the public as Primark shuts its Ipswich store due to the coronavirus crisis   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNNotice to the public as Primark shuts its Ipswich store due to the coronavirus crisis Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The clothing retailer – which has taken a £248m hit from unsold stock across its stores as lockdown continues – will not be reopening stores until the disease is under control, its group boss made clear, and even then, possibly with fewer shoppers allowed in store.

Across the group which owns Primark – Associated British Foods (AB Foods) – two employees have died of the coronavirus disease and another is in intensive care.

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George Weston, boss at the group, which owns Primark, British Sugar and a range of other businesses, said the group had been “squarely in the path of this pandemic”, but would not reopen Primark stores until the disease is under control.

Primark saw sales plunge from £650m a month to zero as a result of the epidemic, which has caused the 376-strong chain – which has no online business to fall back on – to shut completely.

Primark closes its doors to the public   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPrimark closes its doors to the public Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Half-year results showed pre-tax profits slumped 42% to £298m in the six months to February 29, as Primark was left with piles of stock it was unable to sell amid the global lockdown.

The retailer has agreed to pay an additional £370m to suppliers to cover stock currently in production or yet to be delivered after facing criticism over order cancellations during the coronavirus crisis.

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The deal will cover products which were in production or due for shipment by April 17, after previously committed to pay for orders which were in transit or booked for delivery by March 18, it said.

It has also set up a fund to support thousands of garment workers affected.

Mr Weston revealed the “human tragedy” of the crisis, with two of the group’s employees having died from Covid-19 in the past three weeks while another remains in intensive care in the United States.

Stores would only be reopening when it is safe, the company said, and the process was likely to be “complex”.

AB Foods’ food and agriculture business - which includes sugar, grocery and ingredients, with brands such as Twinings tea, Kingsmill bread and Silver Spoon sugar made in Bury St Edmunds - is helping the firm weather the crisis.

“Much as I would love to be allowed to reopen Primark stores across the UK, continental Europe and the USA soon, because lockdown has so harmed our business and our supply chains, I know that we must not do so until we have suppressed this disease,” said Mr Weston.

“When we are allowed to reopen we must make our Primark stores safe for our staff and our customers, even if that means ensuring there are fewer people shopping at any one time and so accepting lower sales at least until the remaining risk is minimal.”

“In time we can rebuild the profits. We can’t replace the people we lose.”

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