Coronavirus: WH Smith could axe 1,500 jobs with sales down 57%

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
W H Smith
WH Smith sales were less than half levels a year ago in June and July, despite the easing of UK lockdown rules and re-opening of more stores. Photo: John Keeble/Getty Images

WH Smith has announced up to 1,500 staff could face redundancy, as it warned sales remained well below pre-crisis levels.

It marks the latest in a string of well-known UK firms to announce mass job losses in recent months, with Pizza Express and Hays Travel among them in the past week alone.

The company (SMWH.L), which dates back to 1792, said total revenues in July were down 57% on a year earlier, despite the easing of UK lockdown rules.

High street revenue has recovered better than sales at airports and train stations, with sales down 25% and 73% respectively, according to a trading statement published on Wednesday.

READ MORE: 1,100 Pizza Express jobs at risk as 67 restaurants could close

The company said it had taken the “difficult decision” to review its store operations, and had begun a consultation with staff on a proposed restructure. It said the plans would cost between £15m ($20m) and £19m, “reflecting the group’s enhanced redundancy policy.”

Carl Cowling, WH Smith’s chief executive, said COVID-19 continued to have a significant impact on the group, with recovery “slow” at transport hubs.

He said further cost-cutting was needed. “I regret that this will have an impact on a significant number of colleagues whose roles will be affected by these necessary actions, and we will do everything we can to support them at this challenging time.”

The update added that the board was “confident” the company had sufficient funds to sustain itself during a “prolonged downturn,” despite burning through £15-20m in July. It has £63m of cash and access to £320m of borrowing facilities.

The company’s shares were trading 4.5% higher on Wednesday.