London — British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) launched a clothing sale on Thursday to help clear stock built up during the coronavirus lockdown, tapping into widespread public support for health workers by giving some of the proceeds to National Health Service (NHS) charities.

With Britain having been in lockdown since March 23, the country’s store-based clothing retailers are sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds of spring and summer stock, which they are now looking to unload as the restrictions start to ease.

Last month, Primark booked a £284m charge to reflect an expected lower value of stock when its stores reopen.

M&S, Britain’s biggest clothing retailer by sales, said it would donate 10% of the customer purchase price, excluding VAT sales tax, of all sale items to NHS Charities Together, with which the retailer has an exclusive arrangement.

The charity would use its cut to support staff, volunteers and patients.

NHS workers have widespread public support in Britain as they try to treat still growing numbers of Covid-19 cases. The disease has caused more than 33,000 deaths in the UK.

The vast majority of M&S’s in-store clothing business has been closed since the lockdown started. It has been able to trade a small amount of space adjacent to its food halls, which have remained open. Its online business has also traded through the lockdown.

M&S said the “rainbow” sale would include all clothing departments — womenswear & lingerie, men’s wear and kidswear with at least 50% off all items. Examples of initial sale items include a women’s jumpsuit for £29, down from £59 and a shirt dress for £22, down from £45.

News of the sale came as M&S also said its long wait for a new clothing boss would end on July 6 when former Tesco executive Richard Price joined the business.

M&S announced Price's appointment last November, poaching him from Tesco’s F&F clothing division.

M&S was made to wait as Tesco placed him on “gardening leave” in terms of his contract, but M&S said on Thursday it had secured his “early start date”.

Price succeeds Jill McDonald in the role. CEO Steve Rowe  sacked McDonald in July, days after he publicly criticised poor clothing availability. Rowe assumed direct leadership of the business himself. He will relinquish that when Price starts.

The clothing business was struggling before the pandemic, with Christmas trading disappointing.

Last month M&S said its planning was based on its clothing and home business enduring subdued trading for the rest of this year. It also warned that its food division had been affected by fewer people travelling into city centres.

M&S is due to publish 2019/2020 results next Wednesday, when it is also expected to update on measures taken to reduce costs and protect cash during the crisis.

The Group's share price was up 0.5% at 1.26pm GMT, paring 2020 losses to 59.4%.