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Marks & Spencer to cut 950 jobs as virus weighs on retailers

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Marks & Spencer Group plans to cut 950 jobs in yet another blow to British shopping districts reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

[LONDON] Marks & Spencer Group plans to cut 950 jobs in yet another blow to British shopping districts reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

The clothing and homewares retailer said the job losses would come from central support functions in its property and field operations as well as its store management network. The cuts represent about 1.2 per cent of its workforce of 78,000.

M&S follows department-store chain Debenhams, Walgreens Boots Alliance's drugstores and the John Lewis Partnership, owner of the upmarket grocer Waitrose, in announcing drastic job cuts. Britain's retailers are struggling to return to normal after months of store closures as lockdown measures have been progressively eased.

The move could be controversial, given that M&S took government support when furloughing 27,000 workers during the pandemic. The stock slumped as much as 2.6 per cent in London trading.

In an effort to avoid significant job losses, the UK government has since offered businesses a £1,000 (S$1,755) bonus for every employee who returns to work, but the measure failed to stem the tide of job cuts. M&S said it hasn't decided whether to accept the bonus for employees who have returned to work.

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The retailer has been trying to turn around for at least the last decade. When it announced its results in May, Chief Executive Officer Steve Rowe said the crisis may accelerate turnaround efforts at a business with a "history of slow cultural change."

The company disbanded many working groups and committees in favour of a smaller top team that can make decisions faster, and employees in stores and support centres are working more flexibly, according to Mr Rowe. Wider strategic goals such as reducing its clothing range and working with a smaller set of suppliers have also been hastened by the crisis.

M&S has struggled in a highly competitive grocery market and after failing to keep up with online "fast fashion" rivals. In May, the company said it was outperforming its worst-case coronavirus scenario after reacting quickly to the pandemic, canceling about £100 million of clothing and home orders.

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