Marks & Spencer delivered a better than expected second quarter performance, as UK like-for-like sales declined by just 0.5%, continuing the improving trend seen over the last three quarters.

In the 13 weeks to September 26, group sales increased 2.7%, while UK total sales edged up 1.9%, with clothing rising 2.7% and home declining 1.8%. Food rose 1.7%.

UK general merchandise, which includes clothing and home, declined 0.8% on a like-for-like basis. Food remained flat.

International revenue jumped 9.6%.

Marks & Spencer executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose said: “Whilst there is more visibility in the marketplace and consumers appear more confident, we continue to be cautious about the outlook.

“We expect 2010 to be a tough year and we will continue to run the business accordingly.”

The retailer said food sales ended eight quarters of decline after the relaunch of its M&S Cook range.

Rose said M&S had held its market share in clothing.

He also revealed that the retailer would be taking on an extra 20,000 staff - more than last year - ahead of the all-important Christmas season.

He said he was “quietly confident” over festive trading but refused to be drawn on predictions of a first return to like-for-like sales growth for the overall group since 2007.

But the executive chairman added there would be “pressure on pockets” next year with the prospect of tax rises, rising unemployment and continuing economic uncertainty.

“It is going to be tough going for the next 12-18 months. I don’t think it is going to be spend, spend, spend,” he said.