The presence of an unmodernised Marks & Spencer store is a tell-tale sign of a high street which has seen better days.

The presence of an unmodernised Marks & Spencer store is a tell-tale sign of a high street which has seen better days.

A vital plank of Sir Stuart Rose’s turnaround plan over the past three years has been that M&S has spent a small fortune updating its stores. It started, naturally enough, with the flagships but aggressively rolled out the new look so that 80% of the stores have now benefitted from it.

So what of the other 20%? In its prelims in May M&S said they would follow suit but a note from Goldman Sachs last week suggested it would be better off closing 15% of its stores - which would come from the unmodernised group - which would help grow operating margin as the broker believes they make a loss.

Barrow-in-Furness and Walworth Road in south London, don’t have much in common, except to be failing high streets with unmodernised M&S stores. Having visited both recently, they are both evidently places with a very value-oriented retail offer where M&S no longer needs to be, and where M&S’s upmarket and pricey food offer is no longer relevant.

You could make the same claim for market towns like Deal and Barnstaple, and grotty London suburbs like Woolwich and Hackney. Shopping has moved on and M&S can’t afford sentimental attachment to locations which were right for it 50 years ago but aren’t any more.

While he’s wielded the axe over a good many Simply Food stores, Rose has been reluctant to tackle the weaker shops in the main chain. Odd ones like Valley Park Croydon, Woking and Chatham have gone, but while it’s sometimes seen as a sign of weakness, he needs to be ruthless.

The worry is what that means for the high streets left behind. I remember when M&S pulled out of Peckham where I grew up, in the 1980s. It’s main shopping street Rye Lane was never the same again, and it now resembles a third world bazaar. But that’s not M&S’s problem. Town centres like Barrow and Walworth were left to rot by their councils long ago, and have been allowed to become places which are no longer right for M&S.