Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Jobs under threat after USC deal

USC shop in Edinburgh
USC was founded as a single shop in Edinburgh in 1989

Up to 300 jobs are under threat after Scottish-based fashion retailer USC was put into administration.

Bryan Jackson of PKF, who has been appointed administrator, said 15 of the group's 58 shops across the UK were affected.

However, a deal has been negotiated with the chain's owners, who will buy back 43 of the stores in a move they claim will safeguard 1,127 jobs.

The remaining 15 stores will be temporarily run by the administrator.

USC was established as a single shop by Angus Morrison and David Douglas in Edinburgh in 1989.

It was bought for 45m in 2004 by West Coast Capital, which is owned by Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter.

This is a positive deal which retains the majority of jobs and shops
Bryan Jackson

Dundonald Holdings Ltd, which put together the rescue package for most of the stores, is another business interest of Sir Tom, who is one of Britain's richest men.

This means Sir Tom's private equity group is effectively buying back part of its own business after putting it into administration, in a so-called pre-pack deal.

Mr Jackson blamed the poor economic climate for USC's financial woes, but hailed the rescue package as a "positive deal".

He said: "The impact of the credit crunch is continuing to spread into the wider economy beyond the property and financial sectors.

"As has been well publicised, retail operators are facing extremely challenging times.

"Given these circumstances this is a positive deal which retains the majority of jobs and shops."

Jim McMahon, Sir Tom's partner in West Coast Capital, insisted the deal that had been negotiated was the only way of assuring the business survived.

Sir Tom Hunter
Sir Tom Hunter's investment group paid 45m for USC in 2004

"Ultimately we had to ask ourselves, what's better - the loss of 15 stores or all 58? The answer was unequivocal.

"Having taken that action we are now confident that with the support of our suppliers and landlords, with whom we are now negotiating, we can deliver a strong and profitable business with sustainable employment prospects for the remaining staff going forward."

It is understood the 300 jobs at risk from the potential closure of 15 USC stores will be a mixture of full-time and part-time positions. The shops stock designer fashion brands including Diesel, Henri Lloyd and Lacoste.

USC, which is headquartered in Dundonald, North Ayrshire, is the latest in a string of well-known high street names to have been hit by the economic downturn.

Woolworths is due to close its last store on 5 January unless a last-minute buyer is found.

Furniture retailer MFI and music and games chain Zavvi have gone into administration, while Whittard of Chelsea and the Officers Club called in administrators but were immediately sold in rescue deals.

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