M&S boss accuses Ministers over tax

MARKS & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose yesterday accused senior ministers of “insulting the intelligence” of business leaders, as he prepared to sign-off as executive chairman of the retail giant by announcing forecast-beating sales figures

Sir Stuart, who is among more than 60 leading business figures to have opposed the Government ‘s planned increase in employers’ National Insurance contributions, became the latest to voice irritation at claims by Gordon Brown and Lord Mandelson that critics of the policy have been “deceived” by the Conservatives.

“It’s unfortunate that we have been dismissed,” Sir Stuart told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “This is an important argument and to insult the collective intelligence of 60-plus chief executives is unhelpful.

“This is not a political point so much as a point about where tax should be levied. Everybody knows that the country needs to sort itself out and this was a serious attempt to have a voice on the subject.”

In his final trading statement before handing over to new chief executive Marc Bolland next month, Sir Stuart yesterday reported that same store sales at M&S grew by a better-than-expected 5.1% in the 13 weeks to March 27.

The figure represents the second quarter of growth in a row after the group posted a 0.8% increase for the previous three months, which was the first increase in two years.

“These are strong quarterly results by any measure,” said Sir Stuart, although he added that the company remained “cautious about the outlook for 2010/11 given the current challenging environment.”

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M&S, which saw its annual profits drop 40% as the UK plunged into recession, said it was on track for profits of between �620million to �630m in the 52 weeks to March 27, up from �604.4m last time.

Retail analyst Katharine Wynne at Investec Securities said Sir Stuart would “hand over the leadership mantle to Marc Bolland on a positive note”. But she added: “This is not to say, however, that M&S is without its structural problems, which Mr Bolland will have to wrestle with.”

Mr Bolland, formerly chief executive at supermarket group Morrisons, takes on the reins on May 1. Sir Stuart will stay on as non-executive chairman of M&S until next March.

n The Institute of Directors also yesterday denied that business leaders had been deceived over the NI issue

In a statement, the IoD said that it and other business organisations had been arguing against the increase since it was first announced in last autumn’s Pre-Budget Report, before the Conservatives announced their policy.

“We welcome the fact that the Conservatives have now decided to support a reversal of the hike, but they are late to the party,” the statement added. “Business has taken a view on the need for a reversal of the NIC hike without influence from political parties and has been deceived by no one.”