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Marks & Spencer fends off shareholder rebellion

Retail giant Marks & Spencer fended off a shareholder rebellion at its annual meeting today despite being taken to task over executive pay packages.

Around 16% of votes failed to back its boardroom remuneration plans amid concern over a £15 million deal offered to incoming chief executive Marc Bolland.

But M&S and its outgoing boss Sir Stuart Rose led a robust defence of the firm's pay proposals and the firm won support from the majority of voters, with around 84% of total votes made in favour of the plans.

Fellow retailer Sainsbury's was also in the firing line over executive pay as it too held its annual general meeting (AGM).

The supermarket received a barrage of criticism, although its pay report was likewise given the green light.

Company pay proposals are top of the agenda this week, with a raft of firms holding annual general meetings.

Fashion group Burberry and property firm British Land are also set to face down shareholders over the issue of pay for top bosses.

In addressing his last AGM as chairman, Sir Stuart told its army of investors he had been "immensely proud" to have served at the top for six years.

Praised by the board for his "remarkable" leadership, Sir Stuart said he was pleased to be handing over the company to good hands.

However, investors hit out at Mr Bolland's pay and the bonuses received by Sir Stuart and the executive team.

The £15 million package for Mr Bolland had already raised the ire of pension advisory group PIRC, which recommended a vote against its remuneration report today.

And shareholders at the AGM vented their anger.

Investor Fred Fusco of Sudbury Town, Wembley, said ahead of the meeting that he believed Mr Bolland's pay and bonuses were "excessive".

He added: "Executive pay is always a hot topic every year and usually I think that the levels are fair enough, but in Mr Bolland's case, it is excessive and questionable."

Another shareholder told the packed AGM the group should justify its boardroom salary and bonus levels.

But Sir Stuart said a substantial amount of Mr Bolland's pay was dependent on strict shareholder performance targets.

"The bulk of Marc's remuneration is 'at risk' and if the company does well, Marc does well. I'm satisfied the two are aligned," he added.