Marks & Spencer has reassessed and reduced its Simply Food opening programme, and is now planning to open a total of 36 owned and franchise stores over the next six months, fewer than originally expected.

The new stores will create 1,200 management and customer assistant roles, with the reduction following weak food sales in the third quarter of 2017/18.

The retailer also announced it is planning to close 14 stores by April, cutting hundreds of jobs, as part of its transformation plan aimed at “better meeting the changing needs of customers”.

Food was down by 0.4% in the 13 weeks to 30th December, due to “ongoing trading pressures in the lead up to Christmas, as consumer spending and choices reflected tighter budgets”.

Commenting on the transformation plan, Sacha Berendji, director of Retail at Marks & Spencer, commented: “We’re committed to transforming M&S for our customers, colleagues and shareholders.

“Stores will always be an integral part of our customer experience, alongside M&, but we have to ensure we have the right offer in the right locations.”

He added: “We don’t want any colleagues to leave M&S and we will work with each colleague individually on what is best for them as we endeavour to give everyone a role. However, we accept in some cases we may have to consider redundancy.”