Marks & Spencer (M&S) says its clothing boss Jill McDonald is "leaving the business", declaring the transformation of its fashion fortunes must now "move on at pace".

The development was confirmed less than 24 hours after a report by Sky News that her departure was likely.

The company stopped short of saying that Ms McDonald had been forced out but it is understood there was no inclination she wished to leave – almost two years since her appointment.

Chief executive Steve Rowe is to take personal charge of the division.

The decision to hire Ms McDonald raised eyebrows at the time as she had no previous fashion experience but a strong background in customer service.

M&S poached her from Halfords – where she was chief executive following a spell in charge at McDonald’s UK.

The retailer had struggled to boost fashion sales for many years ahead of her tenure – made more difficult in the past 18 months as shoppers have tightened their belts.

Its most recent annual results in May showed UK clothing and home revenues had fallen 3.6% on the previous 12 months.

The Guardian reported that at the company’s AGM this week, Mr Rowe admitted mistakes in a troubled year for fashion that included selling out of a number of fast-selling lines.

M&S said in its statement: M&S today announces that Jill McDonald is leaving the business nearly two years after taking over as managing director of clothing and home.

Steve Rowe will be taking over the leadership of the business directly in the near term.

He said: Jill was brought in to establish a strong platform for the transformation of the clothing and home business.

She has achieved that; she leaves with my thanks and good wishes for the future.

She has recruited a talented team, improved the quality and style of product and set a clear direction for the business to attract a younger family age customer.

Mr Rowe concluded: The business now needs to move on at pace to address long-standing issues in our clothing and home supply chain around availability and flow of product.

Given the importance of this task to M&S I will be overseeing this programme directly.

M&S shares – down 12% in the year to date – were 1% lower at the close of trading on Thursday.

(c) Sky News 2019: M&S sacks fashion boss McDonald with CEO to lead turnaround