'So sad' as Hull's Comet workers face bleak Christmas
CITY council leader Steve Brady has spoken of his sadness at hearing 200 Hull Comet workers could lose their jobs.
Workers at the company's business centre in George Street now face a bleak Christmas after the electrical retailer announced it was calling in the administrators.
Staff in Hull were informed of plans yesterday morning and restructuring specialist Deloitte has been lined up to handle the administration.
Pressure from suppliers to pay up, combined with falling sales and a failure to secure insurance has been blamed for the move.
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Hull West and Hessle MP Alan Johnson and Councillor Brady travelled to London earlier this year to speak to the then newly-appointed Comet chairman, John Clare.
Their aim was to convince Mr Clare, a former director of Dixons, to try to preserve jobs in Hull.
Mr Brady said: "To hear it had gone into administration came out of the blue, although we knew they had been struggling.
"When Alan and I met with Mr Clare earlier this year, Comet had just been sold to Opcapita, which was planning to pump money into the business.
"He said he didn't know if it would work but hoped it would. However he did admit the next six months would be critical for the future of the business.
"It is so sad this has happened to another company founded in the city."
In May, following a 90-day consultation, 240 Hull staff were made redundant when the company closed its call centre in George Street.
About 40 workers were transferred to Comet's business centre, also in George Street, with the remaining 240 made redundant.
Comet was founded in Hull almost 80 years ago and went on to become a high street success story.
However, last year tumbling sales, combined with rising pension costs, saw the company report a loss of £22.3m in the six months to October 31.
The following month, its then- owners Kesa Electricals called time on the loss-making business and sold it to retail turnaround firm OpCapita for £2. As part of the deal, Kesa pumped £50m into the struggling electricals chain and took on the firm's pension scheme.
In February this year, ownership of Comet transferred to OpCapita LLP, a private investment partnership.
One employee, who asked not to be named, said staff seemed to be the last to know the bad news.
He said: "We all knew the company was struggling but we had no idea it was going into administration until we saw it in the news. When the call centre closed next door we also heard that second hand."
Former employee Keith Gibson, now business manager at Hull designer football glasses company Fan Frames, said: "I started at Comet when I was 17 and stayed there until I was about 29, so I practically grew up there.
"Some of the people I used to work for are still there and it's such a shame so many face losing their jobs.
"The problem I saw at the time but even more so now I'm running my own business is the fact Comet didn't develop its online offering.
"I used to buy from Comet all the time, even when I left, but for my last purchase – an XBox, I went to Amazon as Comet just couldn't compete on price."