Comment: Breather for Bolland but work to do at M&S

THE weekend headlines made grim reading for Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland, but in the end he needn’t have worried too much.

Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL

After a tough few years since joining from Morrisons, Bolland has been under pressure to get the high-street stalwart back on track, with big investors warning he has only until the autumn to work some magic.

Yesterday’s fourth quarter figure turned out better than expected, but it is a strong performance from food that is holding the figures up. That said, sales in the troublesome clothing and homewares division fell by less than feared, bringing some relief for Bolland. His reward was a lift in the shares. Particularly encouraging is that the new top team, including former Debenhams boss Belinda Earl, is beginning to deliver results in the key clothing business and much of the turnaround will hang on the autumn collection.

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Food sales had a record Easter and avoided the effects of the horsemeat scandal. M&S has also been one of the better retailers at getting its online operation to combine successfully with the stores.

But competition remains fierce, with M&S caught between Primark and the supermarkets at the discount end and John Lewis towards the top.

For now, Bolland has bought some time, but there is work still to be done.

Taxpayer support for KPMG looks generous

THERE has long been a view that the big firms, particularly foreign ones, get preferential treatment over the little guys when it comes to dishing out government grants.

Regional selective assistance, paid to companies to create jobs, has been controversial in this regard for many years.

So there was always likely to be a backlash when accountancy giant KPMG was awarded £1.7 million via Scottish Enterprise to help it create 150 jobs at a new centre of excellence for tax affairs in Glasgow.

The jobs are welcome, of course, as is the establishment of this centre in Scotland, and KPMG is said to be contributing £2m of its own money.

But this is a firm with an annual income of £15 billion and which paid its 602 partners an average of £580,000. The former boss, John Griffith-Jones, now chairman of new regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), picked up £3.1m. When we hear so many stories of small firms being turned down for bank loans and grants it does seem that the odds are stacked in favour of the more powerful.

The accountancy profession’s regulator, the Financial Reporting Council, is also considering an investigation into KPMG, which audited the books at failed bank HBOS in 2008 for which it was said to have been paid £14m.

No wonder Griffith-Jones’ role at the FCA has come in for some criticism. Those charged with supervising others need to be free of any contamination from tainted institutions.

Twitter: @TerryMurden1