Debenhams has announced plans to cut a further 2,500 jobs as the retail sector reels from the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

The chain, which was already struggling from weak sales before the COVID-19 lockdown began in March, said it was taking the action as part of efforts to ensure the business had “every chance of a viable future.”

The company had previously announced in May that it would not be reopening five of its stores, with 1,000 members of staff affected.

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Debenhams decided in May not to re-open five UK stores after lockdown restrictions were eased

Other measures included a decision in April to pull out of Ireland, with the loss of 1,200 jobs.

Debenhams confirmed its latest decision meant it had cut around 6,500 jobs so far this year in total – a third of its workforce – more than 5,000 of which are in the UK.

This makes it the biggest UK retail casualty of the coronavirus crisis so far, followed by Boots, which has axed 4,000 jobs.

The announcement came hours after the latest UK employment figures showed 730,000 jobs have been lost since lockdown began.

In a statement on Tuesday, Debenhams said: “We have successfully reopened 124 stores, post-lockdown, and these are currently trading ahead of management expectations.

“At the same time, the trading environment is clearly a long way from returning to normal and we have to ensure our store costs are aligned with realistic expectations.

“Those colleagues affected by redundancy have been informed and we are very grateful to them for their service and commitment to Debenhams.

Claire Walker

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“Such difficult decisions are being taken by many retailers right now, and we will continue to take all necessary steps to give Debenhams every chance of a viable future.”

The company said a management restructuring process would account for some of the losses, including the scrapping of sales manager, visual merchandise manager and selling support manager roles.

The announcement builds on a steady bleeding of high street jobs that has seen direct competitors including John Lewis and M&S also hit.

A woman wears a face mask and surgical gloves while carrying a bag and walking passed closed small businesses on High Street

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Debenhams has weathered a succession of crises in recent years.

An attempt by the Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley to take control of the business last year ended when it entered an insolvency process before being taken over by a consortium of lenders.

Last month it formally entered administration for the second time in a year and announced that its Irish business, with 11 stores, would permanently cease trading.

The latest administration was designed to protect Debenhams from creditors at a time when stores were shuttered because of the lockdown – though Debenhams continued to trade online.

Job losses were also announced elsewhere with Holiday Inn owner Intercontinental Hotels Group saying it was to shed around 650 posts worldwide as it revealed half-year losses after taking a “substantial” hit from the coronavirus crisis.

The group confirmed it is cutting about 10% of its corporate workforce across global operations, but did not provide a regional breakdown.

The cuts, which were announced internally in July, come after a raft of job loss announcements by rivals across the sector, including a reported 250 head office roles under threat at Premier Inn owner Whitbread.

IHG chief executive Keith Barr said: “The impact of COVID-19 on our business has been substantial.

“The impact of this crisis on our industry cannot be under-estimated, but we are seeing some very early signs of improvement as restrictions ease and traveller confidence returns.”

IHG – which employs around 40,000 staff around the world – said it would not pay out an interim shareholder dividend.