A new city taskforce will hold a summit next week ahead of crunch talks with John Lewis bosses over the future of the high street brand in Aberdeen.
The newly-established group, which includes Aberdeen City Council, Aberdeen Inspired and the city’s Chamber of Commerce, will look to thrash out proposals to keep the retail giant in the north-east – while seeking out a potential package of support for workers.
John Lewis announced this week that it is considering the permanent closure its George Street department store in Aberdeen – with around 265 workers expected to lose their jobs.
However, as a petition to keep the store has reached nearly 20,000 signatures, city bosses have joined forces to seek a resolution.
The summit will take place on Monday ahead of a crisis meeting with John Lewis management on Tuesday.
Aberdeen City Council business manager, councillor Ryan Houghton, said: “We aim to come up with an action plan to keep John Lewis in Aberdeen ahead of the meeting with management.
“We also want to see what kind of financial mechanisms might be available from the Scottish Government in terms of tax incentives and funding, similar to the city centre masterplan.
“We need to find a way forward and we’d like the Scottish Government to be part of that conversation.”
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon told ministers the Scottish Government will “engage with John Lewis directly”.
She added: “The partnership action for continuing employment initiative will be used to help employees who are affected.”
The taskforce will also look to engage the Scottish Government on any potential package of support for out-of-work John Lewis workers.
It comes as the John Lewis Partnership confirmed that no final decision on the store’s fate has yet been made.
Mr Houghton added: “These workers have been dealt a difficult blow in already uncertain times.
“This time is critical to engage with key partners and John Lewis themselves to see if we can find a way forward that’s in everyone’s interest.
“The overwhelming support we’ve seen with the petition clearly shows the strength of feeling in the city and we’re hoping to build on that as we go forward with these discussions.”
Earlier, senior local figures had called on Sir Ian Wood to lead the newly announced taskforce in an effort to keep John Lewis in Aberdeen.
In a letter, Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart said he believed the oil and gas luminary would be “the ideal candidate”.
But Sir Ian’s economic development company Opportunity North East (One) – while backing the effort – appeared to decline the invitation to lead it.
Despite the George Street retail space being under threat of closure, John Lewis management has suggested a “neutral taskforce” could be formed.
Its mandate would look at ways the retail firm could retain a “presence” in Aberdeen.
In his letter to Sir Ian, Mr Stewart said: “There is no doubt that, as things stand, John Lewis will close their George Street premises and leave Aberdeen.
“However, John Lewis has indicated that they may join a neutral taskforce led by an independent person or group with the remit to establish all possible opportunities to see if it is possible to maintain a John Lewis presence in the city.
“This remit would clearly have a substantial impact on the future of the city centre of Aberdeen and has the potential to lead to meaningful action in terms of a vision for our city.”
An Opportunity North East spokesman responded by saying: “The proposed closure of the John Lewis store is an extremely disappointing development which has, understandably, caused significant and widespread concern across the region.
“We understand that a range of partners, including Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, Aberdeen City Council and the Scottish Government, are already engaging with John Lewis to assess any viable options.
“Opportunity North East is willing to play an active role in the discussions going forward but these organisations are best placed to lead these efforts and have our full support.”