A new strategy for reducing the UK’s billion pound illicit tobacco trade is urgently needed, along with a far greater focus on in-land community action to tackle the problem at street level, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has said.

Its call came on the day that MPs questioned the chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the director general of the UK Border Force on their failures to meet key operational targets.

A report from the National Audit Office recently revealed that HMRC was unlikely to achieve its goal, announced in the 2010 Spending Review, of preventing more than £1.4bn in revenue being lost to the illicit trade.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome the Public Accounts Committee scrutiny of HMRC and the UK Border Force.

“We are very concerned that they have failed to meet their operational targets. Our view is that this failure is due in significant part to the limitations of current enforcement strategy so long as there continues to be a lack of sufficient resource and attention directed to inland, community centred, enforcement action.

“The existing strategy focuses heavily on detecting product at our borders, but must be supplemented by greater focus on action to root out the gangs that are preying on our most deprived communities and stealing trade from legitimate retailers,” Lowman said.