Marks & Spencer (M&S) Group’s CEO Steve Rowe said on Wednesday that he is judging the retailer according to its progress through a radical restructuring as much by improvement in profits. That’s a good thing, because its half-year performance was as mixed as its clothing offering: a sea of typically frumpy cardigans punctuated by outstandingly on-trend dresses. Underlying pre-tax profit came in at a better-than-expected £223.5m, helped by cost-cutting. But sales continue to be under pressure. This is particularly notable in the food division. It was once the engine of growth, but it’s struggling under serious competition from the big British supermarkets and the German discounters, all of which are investing in their most upmarket ranges.

Rowe has warned that the company is not expecting much improvement in sales, and this underlines just how much work famed turnaround specialist Archie Norman, who is now chair, has to do. The deterioration in the business means he has little ...

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