More than a third of retailers plan to reduce staffing levels in the next three months, compared with just 13% this time last year, and only 4% plan to increase them.

According to the BRC-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor, the figures point to a noticeable weakening in sentiment over the past year. On Tuesday the Office for National Statistics revealed the UK economy shrank by a shock 0.5% in the final quarter of 2010, raising fears of a double-dip recession.

The BRC said there was a divergence between food and non-food retailers’ employment intentions, with food retailers more confident about hiring.

Bond Pearce head of retail employment Christina Tolvas-Vincent said: “One in three retailers expects to shed jobs in April, but the pattern of employment seems to be patchy. We should consider these statistics against the backdrop of the UK GDP figures.”

The number of hours worked by retail staff in December fell by 1.5% as tough trading conditions led to retailers cutting working hours, again with a sharp contrast between food and non-food, with the reductions coming from non-food.

However, for the fourth quarter of 2010, the number of full-time equivalent jobs in retail increased 0.6% on the same quarter the previous year, equivalent to 3,900 roles. The number of stores increased by 5.9%.