The chief executive of Booker has called for business rates to be abolished for independent retailers.

Speaking at last week’s ACS Global Summit in Birmingham, Charles Wilson said: “Independent shouldn’t be paying rates if you want to have local economies.”

Other speakers at the conference agreed that the burden of rates was hampering local growth. “Business rates are without doubt the most major stumbling block for small businesses,” said Dr Suzanne Hall, research fellow within the LSE Cities Programme, London School of Economics.

Sir Terry Leahy, former chief executive of Tesco, has called for a “radical reform” of business rates. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sir Terry said rates must change to reflect the economic activity of the store. “When recession hits, small shopkeepers can see their revenues collapse through no fault of their own, but the business rates they pay remain the same.”

However, he rejected the argument that supermarkets and chain stores squeeze out small operators. “The truth is that money is needed to reinvent high streets, and the most likely source of that investment is going to be large retailers and property companies,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wilson said there were big opportunities for independents if they “go round the multiples”.

“Brands are critical in convenience but you need a differentiated offer from the mults, and private label offering are just as important for this,” he added.