Secretary of State for Business Peter Mandelson said that 'Solutions for Business' was designed to help small businesses, which he called 'the lifeblood of the economy'.

However, Jonathan James, who owns Budgens stores in Dersingham, Norfolk, and Soham, Cambridgeshire, was unimpressed by the aid package. "Lord Mandelson has the audacity to refer to small businesses as the 'lifeblood of the economy' when his party has presided over legislation that has crippled family-owned businesses throughout the UK," he told C-Store.

Jonathan added that tax and minimum wage increases had hit small businesses, too. "The government has implemented Robin Hood-style business tax changes where small companies have paid more tax while large companies pay less. Inflation-busting hikes in the minimum wage have stemmed investment by small businesses."

Earlier this month Conservative leader David Cameron called for a temporary 1p cut in National Insurance for small businesses and proposed a six-month VAT holiday for small and medium-sized firms to help ease cash-flow problems.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman welcomed the proposals from both parties. He said: "The government has responded to calls from ACS to provide greater support to small businesses to train staff. However, we would also like it to consider the other pressing issues such as shop crime, regulation and red tape, and the minimum wage which has recently risen by 3.6%, well above any recent public sector pay rises."

Nigel Dowdney, who owns the Earlham Shopper in Norfolk, was also disappointed by the government's proposal. "It's a drop in the ocean - £350m is far too little to make a difference, especially compared with the amount spent to help the banks," he said.

"Small businesses are the most vulnerable businesses in the British economy, but nothing worthwhile is being done to help them."