Sparks fly at Marks and Sparks after fall in profits

Marks & Spencer's 'General Merchandise' division performed worst for the retailer through the year. Photo: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

It remains Britain's biggest clothing retailer. It had £10 billion in turnover. Indeed, group sales were actually up 1.3% (not bad going in these tough times).

So what is wrong at M&S?

That slight growth in sales comes from its international division and internet. On the High Street - the most familiar face of the store - things are not so rosy.

Pre-tax profits were down 6% to £665m. That's the lowest for four years. And it is sales in the "General Merchandise" division that flopped most - 2.4% through the year.

Food is not the problem. It may be more costly than some outlets - but shoppers seem to think its worth the extra, even in these difficult times. Food trade is up almost 4%. The problem is clothing.

Marks & Spencer's clothing slump came after Primark reported a strong sales growth. Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

What was traditionally Marks and Sparks' great strength has become its biggest weak point.

Many other outlets were quicker to cut prices in the High Street clothing sales war over the last year. One of the big economy outlets Primark last month reported strong sales growth. The chain is now heading for one of the most important summers in its recent history.

A new fashion range, launched to the trade last week, will hit the racks. After two years of work it will be a decisive factor in the future of M&S.