Marks & Spencer stores in Carlisle and Barrow are at risk of closure as part of a national cull by the struggling chain, a retail analyst claims.

Last week M&S announced that it would close up to 60 clothing and home stores over the next five years as it focuses more on food.

It declined to say which stores were at risk.

But retail analyst the Local Data Company believes that - of M&S's four Cumbrian stores in Carlisle, Workington, Kendal and Barrow - those in Carlisle and Barrow are potentially vulnerable.

Its findings are based on a so-called 'health index' assessing the vibrancy of high streets.

Director Matthew Hopkinson said: "The big question is which stores are they likely to close?

"The health index consists of 12 attributes that are considered as key performance indicators for a destination location.

“Towns [with a low index score] include Ayr, Barrow-in-Furness, Blackpool, Bolton, Boston, Dundee, Hereford, Mansfield, Stoke and Sunderland.

"Locations where the health index is weakening, indicating a potential drop off in attractiveness, include Dundee, Carlisle, Kings Lynn, Macclesfield, Kettering, Maidstone, Southport, Bedford, Bridlington and Buxton.”

A spokesman for M&S dismissed the hit list as "pure speculation".

He said: “It is not based on any M&S data and we have not published any locations.

“What we have done is outlined plans to improve our store estate over the next five years which include opening 200 new Food stores and selling Clothing and Home from 60 fewer stores.”

M&S opened a £10 million extension to its Carlisle store, in English Street, in 1998 when it expanded into the former Littlewoods next door.

Although the food hall in Blackfriars Street is not at risk, closure of the clothing and homeware store would be a blow to the city's reputation as a shopping destination.

Lucy Matthews, who manages Bookends and Bookcase in Castle Street, said it would be a “real shame” if the store were to close.

She added: "It would have an impact. It would leave a huge premises empty and that would affect the appearance of the whole high street.

“There are other shops in town that perhaps rival M&S now such as Debenhams and even Primark, but it must be a big draw for people from the west coast and south Scotland.

“It would be a concern for us as retailers because it would give people another reason to go to Newcastle or another city instead of shopping in Carlisle.

Meanwhile Phil Collier, manager of Barrow’s Business Improvement District, doubts that M&S would close its store in Dalton Road.

He said: “It’s fair to say that, if Barrow’s M&S were to close, it would have a huge impact on our high street.

“However, I do doubt that this is a realistic proposition.

"A company such as Marks & Spencer will always be undertaking reviews to ensure it is trading efficiently and that’s what it’s undertaking at the moment.

“M&S will have its finger on the pulse and will be aware of the huge amounts of investment coming into Barrow and it would be difficult to understand why they would make the decision to remove M&S from the Barrow high street.

“If the store was to be turned into just a Simply Food, M&S would be sending shoppers to its direct competitors and it would make no sense to do that.”