Another round of changes planned at M&S

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MARKS & SPENCER is planning yet another top-level restructuring in its attempt to arrest the recent sharp decline of its core UK business.

The M&S board has met every day this week to discuss issues including the appointment of a new chairman and the structure of its UK operations.

An announcement will be made next week about changes to the UK retail board that will principally affect the buying functions.

M&S is planning to create customer business units below the UK board to try to make its operations more responsive to customer needs.

"We have been doing lots of market research and these change are a result of those discussions," an M&S spokeswoman said yesterday.

M&S said there would be no job losses as a result of the changes, though some voluntary departures are expected.

The company has already axed six main board directors and a layer of senior management this year, at both store and head office level.

The main change is understood to be an "invigoration" of the buying processes, which have traditionally been the dominant force in M&S's UK business.

The plan is to make them less remote and more responsive to the changing customer requirements.

M&S's merchandise has been criticised strongly in the past 12 months as dowdy and out of touch with fashion.

Its huge volumes have also often forced it to buy ranges well in advance of the seasons, leaving it over-exposed if trends changed.

Analysts expressed surprise that the company was spending four days on board meetings at peak Christmas trading time. Sales at M&S's UK stores are thought to have been poor in recent weeks, with sharp declines in like-for-like sales in clothing.

The company has been at the centre of takeover speculation in the past week. Philip Green, the retail entrepreneur who broke up the Sears empire, has confirmed that he is looking at the group.