WEEKS before Christmas, with the country coming out of a month-long national lockdown, the shopping sector is in crisis.

Stores are expected to be extremely busy, but a high street bloodbath is underway as around 25,000 jobs could be axed.

Some 13,000 staff at Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group face an anxious wait following the business collapsing into administration.

Debenhams, which is already in administration, said it would start a liquidation process after JD Sports confirmed it had pulled out of a possible rescue.

The 242-year-old department store chain has around 12,000 staff, with stores in Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

Rachel Anderson, assistant director of policy, North-East England Chamber of Commerce said: “We understand these job losses are devastating for those people affected.

“The Government's priority now should be on making trading conditions easier in our town centres which includes a fundamental reform of the business rates system, support for independent retailers and increased help for local areas to find new uses for some town centre buildings and new ways to bring footfall into town centres.”

Arcadia’s brands, which includes Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Burton, has hired Deloitte to handle the next steps after the pandemic “severely impacted” upon sales across its brands.

Many of Arcadia’s staff worked at its brands’ concessions in Debenhams, which had hoped for a rescue.

Talks with JD Sports have now ended after the sports chain retailer walked away and a winding down process has begun.

Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, said: “The news that Debenhams is to close all its stores is devastating for all the staff employed across the country. Debenhams in Middlesbrough is at the heart of the centre and loved by so many people.

“To see so many jobs lost in the retail sector is further blow at a time when so many businesses are fighting to survive the Covid pandemic.”

Simon Clarke, Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until March to give people and businesses the support they need over what will be a difficult winter.

He said: “This is terribly sad news for anybody who stands to lose their job as a result of the winding down of operations at Debenhams.

“I will work with all constituents affected to best help them receive all the support they need at this difficult time.

"The Government has provided unprecedented support for business throughout this pandemic.

“It is nonetheless clear the economic effects of fighting Covid-19 last longer for businesses than the duration of any given restrictions, and we need to go further with our support.

"While the Government cannot save every business in these unprecedented times, we will continue to do all we can to support business owners and employees."

Arcadia, which runs 444 stores in the UK and 22 overseas, said 9,294 employees are currently on furlough.

No redundancies have been announced and stores will continue to trade, the administrators said, with many due to reopen on Wednesday when England’s lockdown is lifted.

Ian Grabiner, chief executive of Arcadia, said: “This is an incredibly sad day for all of our colleagues as well as our suppliers and our many other stakeholders.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the forced closure of our stores for prolonged periods, has severely impacted on trading across all of our brands.

“Throughout this immensely challenging time our priority has been to protect jobs and preserve the financial stability of the group in the hope that we could ride out the pandemic and come out fighting on the other side.

“Ultimately, however, in the face of the most difficult trading conditions we have ever experienced, the obstacles we encountered were far too severe.”

Retail trade union Usdaw has said it is seeking urgent meetings with Arcadia’s administrators in a bid to preserve jobs.

Dave Gill, Usdaw national officer, said: “Now that Arcadia is in administration, it is crucial that the voice of staff is heard over the future of the business and that is best done through their trade union.

“We are seeking urgent meetings and need assurances on what efforts are being made to save jobs, the plan for stores to continue trading and the funding of the pension scheme.

“In the meantime, we are providing our members with the support and advice they need at this very difficult time.”

The administrators said they will be “assessing all options available”, which could see brands sold off in separate rescue deals.

Arcadia will continue to honour all online orders made over the Black Friday weekend and will continue to operate all of its current sales channels.

Matt Smith, joint administrator at Deloitte, said: “We will now work with the existing management team and broader stakeholders to assess all options available for the future of the group’s businesses.

“It is our intention to continue to trade all of the brands, and we look forward to welcoming customers back into stores when many of them are allowed to reopen.

“We will be rapidly seeking expressions of interest and expect to identify one or more buyers to ensure the future success of the businesses.”