WH Smith is to axe 270 head office jobs as new chief executive Kate Swann looks for annual savings of £8.5m to help it compete against comparable retailers.

The news came as WHS said interim UK retail like-for-like sales were flat and that operating profit was down 39% to £51m.

Swann said its UK high street retail business delivered an “unacceptable” first half performance, which was a culmination of “a number of years where the business has not fulfilled its potential”.

Swann listed her priorities as to reduce central costs; address stock availability; improve the offer in store; strengthen controls and processes; and address product ranges.

She said that while WHS faced stiff competition from the supermarkets, which have a strong position in front-list, fast moving lines, she noted that they had limited presence in back-list lines.

WHS said its news distribution business performed well, with like-for-like newspaper sales up 4%, weekly magazines up 3%, while growth in partworks jumped 46% on the back of new launches.