Marks & Spencer backs struggling UK high street

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The Independent Online

Marc Bolland, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, has reaffirmed its commitment to the UK high street at a turbulent time for the sector, as the April bank holidays helped it deliver a solid first quarter.

His reassuring comments came as M&S avoided a bloody nose over pay at its annual meeting yesterday, after investors backed the retailer's remuneration policy. In particular, shareholders supported its award of controversial "golden hellos" to Mr Bolland and Laura Wade-Gery, its head of e-commerce, and the £8.1m goodbye payout to its former chairman Sir Stuart Rose for long-term rewards.

But it was Mr Bolland's comments on the beleaguered UK high street that caught the eye.

He said: "We have at the moment 219 stores on the high street and our stores perform well. We are actually a sort of anchor of the high street so we are planning to invest in the stores. We have a strong belief in the high street."

M&S – which has more than 600 stores in the UK – plans to grow its estate by about 2 per cent this year. It will also, from this autumn, segment its products in a number of pilot stores, based on an area's demographics and affluence, for the first time in its 127-year history.

Mr Bolland's support for the high street followed a string of retailers, including Jane Norman and TJ Hughes, collapsing into administration in the past month. Yesterday, M&S said that market share gains in clothing and food had driven a 1.7 per cent rise in UK like-for-like sales for the quarter to 2 July.

However, while M&S may have fared better than some of its clothing rivals by growing market share by 20 basis points to 11.7 per cent over the 12 weeks to 15 May, according to Kantar Worldpanel, the retail giant's underlying clothing and other general merchandise (GM) sales in the UK were flat.