THE CHIEF executive of retailer Marks & Spencer has said every aspect of the business is being scrutinised in an attempt to reverse falling sales.

Steve Rowe, who has led the company since April 2016, said that “against the background of profound structural change in our industry” the 134-year old company is “leaving no stone unturned” as it goes about “reshaping our business, its organisation and culture”.

“Every aspect of our ranges, how we trade, our supply chain and marketing is undergoing scrutiny and change,” he said.

Mr Rowe made his comments while revealing that the company’s pre-tax profits rose by 2 per cent to £223.5 million before adjusting for one-off items during the six months to the end of September despite revenues contracting by 3.1% to £5 billion.

At 2.7%, sales in the firm’s clothing and home division fell more sharply than in its food business, with Mr Rowe noting that the former has “an ageing customer base, a very wide range, a weak supply chain and an ageing store portfolio”.

He added that M&S Food, which saw sales reduce by 0.2%, was impacted by Easter falling right at the start of the period and the business taking steps to restore “trusted value” among its customers.

“These include reducing prices and removing complex and confusing promotions,” Mr Rowe said.

“Although we are starting to reshape the ranges and tackle the weakness in our supply chain, waste and availability remain worse than market comparator levels.”

With 20.4% of the company’s clothing and homes sales coming via its website, Mr Rowe said the focus now is on growing M&S’s online platform, with Loblaw Digital senior vice-president Jeremy Pee due to join the company next month to “lead the turnaround of our data and loyalty programmes and the digital conversion of the business”.

“Our website and online fulfilment capability remain well behind the best of our competitors,” Mr Rowe said.

“However, very early steps to improve our website have helped deliver UK Clothing & Home growth of 9.1% online, with clothing growth ahead of the market, and further improvement has been seen in recent weeks.

“Technology and supply chain resilience remains an issue but despite this 20.4% of UK clothing and home sales are now online compared with 18.2% in H1 2017/18.”

The digital-first push has come at the same time as the company confirmed it closed 21 stores across the UK during the six-month period, as part of an ongoing programme that will see 100 shut down by 2022. It booked one-off costs of £47m relating to the closures during the first half.

So far in Scotland the business has relocated its Greenock branch to Port Glasgow, creating 40 jobs in the process, and closed down its Falkirk store, which employed 90 people.

While M&S has yet to reveal the locations of every store it intends to close in the next few years, its branch in East Kilbride is the only other Scottish one that has so far been earmarked for closure. Up to 67 jobs are under threat as a result of that move.

Elsewhere, rival retailer John Lewis Partnership has announced that chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield will step down in 2020 after serving in the role for a 13-year period.

Sir Charlie, who initially joined John Lewis as head of business development in 2000, has served on the company’s board since 2001. He succeeded Sir Stuart Hampson as chairman of the board in 2007.

Sir Charlie said that while his departure is “still a considerable way off” he decided to “lay out the timetable now to enable an open and thorough process to select the next chairman of the partnership”.

It is expected that John Lewis will announce Sir Charlie’s successor in the latter half of next year.