Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson raises the closure of Com

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson with Aintree Comet store sales manager Brian Prescott and the store general manager Daniel Isaac.

 

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson is questioning in Parliament the circumstances which have left 36 people unemployed as an Aintree electricals superstore closes its doors just days before Christmas.

Bill said serious questions needed to be answered after visiting staff at the electricals retailer Comet on Aintree Industrial Estate.

The former high street giant was sold in February this year for just £2 by investors as the company announced it was running at a huge loss.

But shortly after the deal was done, staff were informed by the new owners that business was looking up. In an email in July, staff were told that they were on target to reach bonuses.

In September further internal memos to staff indicated that the business had been turned around and the future was looking bright.

On October 31, staff at the Aintree store were told to ensure they had their Christmas decorations up for the run up to the pre-festive shopping flurry.

A number of them got in early, starting work at 6.50am to decorate the store. But as they turned on the TV, they saw on the news that Comet had gone into liquidation and all stores were set to close.

Aintree store sales manager Brian Prescott was one of those who learned the news that the plug was being pulled on the company on the news.

Brian said: "We couldn't believe it. We were told that things were looking up again. We were hitting all the targets and things were looking really good for us all.

"So when we came in that morning to put up the Christmas decorations, to be met on the TV with news that the Comet was going under was a total shock. We received no notification from the owners at all.

"We were told when the deal was done last February that there would be no redundancies and that one of the conditions of sale was that the business could not go into administration for at least 18 months. There had even been an investment which was supposed to be used to re-fit many of the stores.

"Within a few months about 3,000 of the 11,000 jobs were lost nationwide. Service centres were closed or relocated and trading policies and practices changed beyond recognition.

"But in July, we received a head office memo informing us that we were finally starting to trade 'in the black'. Not bad for six months of trading in an aggressive retail climate. Even better, we were told of the 'bright future'.

"So how, after promises of healthy 'end of year' bonuses for beating profit targets can the company collapse? How can the successful position of July, followed by four very good months of trading result in total and utter failure?"

Staff at the store finally received notification from head office. It told them that the store was to close within three weeks on December 18 (yesterday).

Brian said: "For the past three weeks we have had the proverbial carrots dangled in front of us, which have included promises of takeover talks and staff incentives which had been withheld promised to us on Christmas Eve. These were incentives which were earned by staff in October and due to be paid out to us in November.

"But the true cost of all of this is the loss of 11,000 jobs in 12 months, with whole towns like Skelmersdale relying on Comet employment. 

"If this had happened in the steel or car manufacturing industry, there would have been a public outcry and certainly a debate in Parliament.

"I have worked for 24 years in this store. It's where I met my wife. I've given some of the best years of my life to Comet and I've loved working here. I've loved working with my colleagues in this store and I just can't believe that 36 people in this store alone, and 11,000 people around the country are being thrown on the dole queue so soon before Christmas. It'd make me mad if it wasn't so farcical."

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson said he was appalled by the way the Comet staff had been treated.

Bill said: "It is outrageous just how the staff have been treated throughout this whole sorry saga. They tell me that there has been minimal communication from head office. That money which they worked for and have a right to was being withheld. And that they have been given no assistance in looking for new employment or even writing a CV.

"This is sounds to me like something from Dickens. People should not be treated like this in this day and age.

"I have already asked a number of questions of the company behind Comet at the moment and I will be raising this issue in Parliament at the earliest opportunity. If I get the chance to ask a question of David Cameron during Prime Minister's Questions this Wednesday, I will be raising the plight of the Comet workers.

“I am also requesting an urgent meeting with administrators Deloitte to ensure that the staff get the money that they have worked for and they get the help which they should have received before the closure.

"This should not be allowed to happen again, but my fear is that this is now common practice and it is only a matter of time before the next high street giant is brought down."


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