Marks and Spencer’s chairman Luc Vandevelde is to launch a private equity firm based in the UK and backed by the Halley family founders of French retail group Promodes to buy businesses across Europe.

M&S said the move would not conflict with Vandevelde’s position at the high street retailer, which becomes becomes part-time from next month, when he will dedicate 60% of his working time as company chairman.

Meanwhile, the weekend press rumoured that M&S’ recovery was being threatened by slow pre-Christmas sales across key lines such as menswear and womenswear. The problem is worst in women's fashions, where sluggish sales have left the company with too much stock.