Simon English: How much longer before Marks & Spencer is finally past its sell-by date?

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The Independent Online

Outlook What's the point of Marks & Spencer? To chief executive Marc Bolland, the point is pay of £2.5m this year alone. And some extras, doubtless, later. Free M&S clothes perhaps. He dresses in little else.

For the press spinners at M&S, £2.5m is barely chicken feed. On the basis that it is less than he got a year ago. Uh huh.

For the rest of us, there seems little to keep us in the stores, beyond brand loyalty and those nice Christmas adverts. Also Twiggy is a national treasure, etc. One shopper's views: the clothes suck and the food looks better than it tastes.

Plainly, that's still a minority opinion: most of middle Britain continues to think M&S is a must shopping destination, albeit one in a supposedly permanent state of decline, like the England football team, or Michael Parkinson.

But M&S's status cannot be a perpetual thing in defiance of performance. Mr Bolland, a food man (his reorganisation of Morrisons was brilliant) who just happens to look suave in nice suits, is not obviously the man to return this business to former glories, but then perhaps no one can.

M&S investors and customers noticing that the food in Morrisons is now as good as M&S sells but cheaper may be tempted to switch their holding/loyalty. On the clothes front, you can buy M&S non-iron shirts without an M&S brand label online for a third of the price (note to M&S corporate affairs: put the phone down, I am wearing the evidence).

Which raises the question of what the company's long-term future may be. It's good for a few years for sure. Mr Bolland's pension is solid (wipes sweat from brow in relief).

Will M&S exist in 20 years' time? It is hard to say for sure that it will. It may need a radically new plan.

s.english@independent.co.uk

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