Sir Stuart Rose is one of UK food retail’s more engaging characters and yesterday (19 March) the Marks and Spencer boss gave his views on the recent criticism levelled at the retailer; the outlook for the UK economy; and his plans for retirement.

Here are some of the best quotes from Sir Stuart’s appearance at the Retail Week Conference 2009 in London.

“Most people have got, if they have got a job, more disposable income than they had six months ago. (There may be) a beginning of a plateauing out of people’s lack of confidence.”

“Let’s see what happens. We just have to wait and see. You ask ten business people what’s happening, in truth most of them don’t know. Half would say one thing, half of them would say the other.”

“We have lots of leading executives on our board but nobody really knows where we’re headed at the moment.”

“Running Marks and Spencer in itself is not an easy thing but running the Government must be a horrible job. Look at the number of people in business who have ever tried going into politics – and there are quite a number – nobody ever learns the lesson: don’t. The Government has thrown everything at it. Is it better to have over-compensated rather than under-compensated? The answer is it probably is.”

“We did not, [however], see any appreciable benefit in reducing VAT. Most retailers don’t seem to have got over-excited about it.”

“Anybody who has got the time on his hands to write a 104-page note on Marks and Spencer is obviously not a very busy man. Tony [Shiret, Credit Suisse analyst] takes himself very seriously. I must confess, I haven’t read the note. I’m far too busy.”

“If anybody seriously thinks that Marks and Spencer in 2009 is the same Marks and Spencer that was there in 2004, they’ve obviously got a very poor memory.”

“Keep innovating. Keep putting development in. Keep giving the customers a treat.”

“Businesses have to be robust and grit their teeth. They have to make sure that they don’t cut an artery, cutting fat out is absolutely the right thing to do but cutting an artery is a dangerous thing to do.”

“I’ve been very critical about the fact that we had a very established business and market share in western Europe, which we established in 1975 through to 2001 or 2002 when we pulled the plug on it. And I regret that. But putting the clock back is very difficult. If the opprtunity presents itself, we have to go over these markets.”

“I have to go by 31 July 2011. Like our food, I’ve got a sell-by date.”