Around 2,000 jobs are at risk after online retailer Shop Direct announced plans to replace its fulfilment centres in Greater Manchester with an automated facility in the East Midlands.

Liverpool-based Shop Direct operates digital department stores Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com and VeryExclusive.co.uk.

Development of a 500,000 square foot distribution and returns centre at the East Midlands Gateway is due to start in May 2018.

The group plans to begin exiting its existing fulfilment sites in Shaw, Little Hulton and Raven from mid-2020 as it says limited accessibility, layout and loading restrictions, coupled with a lack of space, mean they will not meet the group’s future operational ambitions.

The firm said the move is expected to impact 1,177 permanent staff and 815 agency workers, with redundancies anticipated.

The new site is expected to be fully operational by 2021. Shop Direct says it will allow it to process more orders and use new technology to make the business more responsive, reducing the time it takes to get retail products to customers.

Approximately 500 permanent roles will be created at the new site, and this is expected to increase by an additional 200 to 300 agency staff during peak periods.

“This is a tough day for the business and we know how difficult this news will be to hear for our teams in Shaw, Little Hulton and Raven,” said Derek Harding, interim group CEO of Shop Direct. “However, these proposals are necessary for our future and to enable us to continue to grow and meet rising customer expectations.

“We take very seriously our responsibilities to our colleagues, many of whom have been with us for a long time and who work tirelessly to deliver for our customers.”

Shop Direct says it is working alongside trade union Usdaw to smooth the transition for its Greater Manchester workers.

Harding added: “Over the next two to three years, we’ll be partnering with local and national organisations to provide our colleagues with tailored advice and training, including career skills, access to financial planning and vocational courses to support re-training.

“It’s also our plan to offer apprenticeships in in-demand skills across our existing operational sites. Our priority is to provide a fair outcome for our team and we’ll do everything we can to support colleagues through this transition.”

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