Maternity specialist Mothercare has reported a rise in first-half profits but its core UK business underperformed international operations.

The retailer, which also own the Early Learning Centre brand, posted a 22% uplift in group underlying profit to £12.2m on sales ahead 2.5% to £397.1m.

But in the UK total sales slipped 0.4% to £295.1m in the period to October 9 and underlying operating profit plunged from £9m to £2.8m as retail sales and margins slipped. Like-for-likes fell 3.8%.

Sales by international franchisees  rose 17.3% to £293m and Mothercare opened 112 more overseas shops in the period, bringing the total to 840 in 53 countries. Overseas profits rocketed 33.9% to £15.8m.

Mothercare chief executive Ben Gordon described the UK performance as resilient and said: “The UK consumer environment remains uncertain and we continue to plan cautiously. We are however benefiting from the strategic initiatives we have taken and from the rapid growth of international, direct and wholesale.”

Arden Partners analyst Nick Bubb said: “There is much to admire in Mothercare’s strong overseas franchise-led growth but the business is running ever harder to stand still in the UK.”