Sir Stuart Rose has come under fresh fire over his position at the top of M&S as shareholder confidence in the executive chairman’s leadership falters.

A group of institutional shareholders is reported to have met with M&S independent non-executive director Jan Du Plessis to air their feelings of disquiet at Rose’s leadership of the company.

The revelation comes amid new fears about M&S’s performance on the high street. The retailer’s sales and profits have slipped sharply over the past year, with dire figures anticipated when it publishes its annual results in May.

It is the second time in a year that Rose has been forced to defend his position. At the retailer’s annual meeting last year he survived a vote on whether his recently announced appointment as executive chairman should stand, despite 22 per cent of the shareholders voting against the move.

Shareholders are calling on Du Plessis to appoint a senior independent director to replace Sir David Michels, who at present holds the role but has been accused of being too close to Rose to carry it out with enough impartiality.

Rose is likely to face another vote over his position at this year’s shareholder meeting, in which he could be called on to stand down from either his chairmanship or his role as chief executive.