Given that much of what put the Great into Great Britain is in deep water (in every sense), it was all the more depressing on Tuesday to hear one of retailing's troubled institutions report a significant deterioration in trading over the last five weeks. And while the report from Marks & Spencer executive chairman Luc Vandevelde was not as depressing as some City soothsayers had predicted, it's obvious he still has some way to go to restore M&S to high street greatness. It's inconceivable to many that the chain will not recover its former glory, and it was refreshingly honest of Vandevelde to say that the company had lost sight of some of the basics of retailing. But his challenge is to convince doubting City watchers that he really can do something about it. Unfortunately for Mr Vandevelde, the clock is ticking. He wisely refrained, on taking the helm, from making bold predictions about when better times would arrive for the ailing chain. But it's to be hoped he is sufficiently sassy, when it comes to UK conditions, to know that the pace of retail change is accelerating. In truth, the competitiveness stakes are being raised by the minute. It's trite to proclaim that the best management manuals say successful retailing is all about proactive people. But while the M&S man welcomes the arrival of Roger Holmes from McKinsey via Kingfisher as his head of UK retailing, new faces at one of his high street competitors are also ensuring the heat is being turned up. The Terry Green-Allan Leighton dream team, just along the street at BHS, merits close attention from Vandevelde and his band of St Michael disciples. For there are some, this writer among them, who are convinced that Leighton, having got the Wal-Mart thing out of his system, has a secret hankering to take the M&S tiller. At the moment, our Allan's focus is on turning the BHS firepower against M&S. But given his insatiable appetite for a business challenge the Baker Street team would do well to keep looking over their shoulders. Clive Beddall, Editor {{OPINION }}