M&S seeks buyer for ailing French stores

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The Independent Online

Marks & Spencer sought to return a little of the shine to its tarnished reputation yesterday by suspending plans to close its stores in France.

The company said it was concentrating on finding a buyer for the French stores who would keep on the 1,500 staff. But if no suitable buyer could be found, the retailer would go ahead with the closures. M&S said in March that it would close all 38 of its stores in mainland Europe and sell off its American interests to concentrate on business in Britain.

The move, expected to cost 4,390 jobs, came after the company posted losses of more than £100m in three years in its mainland Europe stores. Its French workers were at the forefront of fierce protests that shook M&S management and dealt them a public relations blow. Workers occupied the company's French headquarters, went on strike and daubed Paris shop windows with insults to protect jobs.

Earlier this month, the company's directors faced an angry shareholders' meeting in Britain as it announced a further steep fall in sales.

Despite yesterday's small concession, plans to close the other 20 stores in mainland Europe will go ahead. And Alain Juillet, the company's director in France, said the company would not be operating in France in 12 months, regardless of whether a buyer had been found.