Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Marks & Spencer stores due to escape closure in shake-up

By Jonny Bell

Marks & Spencer stores in Northern Ireland are expected to escape the axe in major overhaul at the retailer next week.

Reports surfaced on Friday that the retailer was reportedly gearing up to shut dozens of its high street shops and phase out clothing sales at select stores as part of a major overhaul.

Chief executive Steve Rowe - who took over from Dutchman Marc Bolland in April - is expected to announce a major reorganisation of the company's UK portfolio next week, according to Sky News, which cited sources.

The number of stores set for closure are said to be "in the low dozens", and will take place over a number of years. Meanwhile, some of the retailer's clothing stores will be replaced by its more successful food offerings.

M&S did not provide a statement, adding that it would not comment on "rumours or speculation".

An official announcement is expected next week, however, the Belfast Telegraph understands Northern Ireland stores will not be affected.

M&S has undergone a major shake-up by its new chief executive, after he axed 525 jobs at the retailer's head office in a bid to cut costs in August.

The company said the staff cuts would result in significant savings, amounting to about 1% of its UK operating costs per year, though costs were still expected to rise by around 3.5% for 2016.

Mr Rowe later embarked on a major overhaul of staff pay in an effort to mitigate the impact of the National Living Wage.

M&S is forecast to report a difficult second quarter for its beleaguered clothing arm next week. Analysts are forecasting a 3.9% drop in like-for-like sales from the general merchandising division, after clothing sales plummeted 8.9% in the first three months of the year - the worst sales performance for more than a decade.

Mr Rowe is also expected to announce a shake-up of the retailer's international operations next week.

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