The Low Pay Commission is being urged to freeze this year's planned increase in the National Minimum Wage in order to reduce the burden on small businesses.

A recent Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) poll found that just under 75% of retailers said the 2008 hike had made them less competitive.

The survey of 400 retailers also found that last year's increase, coupled with the recession, forced 41% of retailers to cut staff hours, while 16% found it necessary to let staff go.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "Businesses in the UK are experiencing a double hit of recession and growing employment costs. We are calling for a freeze on the National Minimum Wage for 2009/10 to offset the inflation-busting rises of the past 10 years and to help businesses by not imposing an automatic increase in their biggest item of expenditure."

Independent retailer Andy Patel, who owns a Budgens store in Virginia Quay, agreed a freeze was needed. "It would help us a lot," he said. "Our expenses have gone up hugely, and while we are getting extra sales because of promotions, our margins have shrunk. Employees would probably be disgruntled by the freeze at first, but they would understand once they saw the bigger picture."

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