Dave Visick

There is no better time for local retailers to press for reform than in the months leading up to a general election, said speakers at last week's Heart of the Community Seminar, organised by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).

ACS chief executive James Lowman told the assembled retailers: "MPs are listening now more than ever. You are particularly powerful and we must use that power."

MPs at the event agreed that they responded to constituents' lobbying. Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson explained how he withdrew his initial support for a tobacco display ban after retailers in his constituency convinced him its effect would not justify the upheaveal to their trade, and Tory MP Mark Prisk said a future Conservative government would "turn your ideas into practical action".

Introducing the ACS' 10-point plan for supporting local shops, Lowman said: "This is the message retailers across the country will carry to politicians over the next few months.

"Our proposals will provide direct help to shops, saving money from the bottom line and freeing them of restrictions that hamper their ability to invest and grow."

He called on ACS members to write to their MPs and said the association would provide pro-forma letters. They could also become local campaigners on behalf of the ACS.

"Local campaigning is essential," he said. "MPs don't understand the problems you face and need to be pressured at a local level. Form a relationship with them get them into your store and show them how you combat underage purchases, how you support local suppliers and how you provide jobs for local people. Demonstrate the role you can play in a thriving local community."

A recent ACS poll revealed that 82% of consumers believe that a reduction in the number of local shops in their area has a negative impact on the local community double the support enjoyed by any of the political parties, Lowman said.