The Co-operative Group is to axe up to 300 staff at its Manchester head quarters in the face of the “toughest trading conditions in recent history” in the grocery sector.

Employees were told to assemble at certain locations in the city, including the Print works entertainment hub and the Palace Hotel, between 9am and midday today to learn their fate. It is thought between 200 and 300 people in The Co-op food business could lose their jobs.

The Independent understands that the job cuts are not directly related to the fifth largest grocery retailer’s trading performance. Chief executive Peter Marks is aiming to deliver greater efficiencies in its back office functions, including streamlining departments such as IT and human resources across the group.

No jobs are to go at the grocer’s 3,000 shops.

In a document sent to staff last month, acting chief executive of food Sean Toal said: “In common with other UK food retailers, we are continuing to face very extreme challenges in a market where customers are spending less.

“It is no exaggeration to say that our business is experiencing some of the its toughest trading conditions in recent history and this is impacting on our financial performance.”