The government is being urged to ensure a level playing field for the UK’s rural convenience stores, whose owners invested over £271m in providing essential services over the past year.
The Association of Convenience Store’s 2019 Rural Shops Report highlights the social and economic importance of rural stores, which provided flexible jobs for almost 140,000 people and engaged regularly in communities activities. Nearly eight in 10 (79%) rural store owners have engaged in some form of activity over the past year, according to the report.
The report revealed that 35% of rural shoppers would have to travel more than four miles to get essential groceries if their local convenience store didn’t exist.
It also highlighted the importance of cash and the provision of store ATMs to rural communities: 73% of rural shoppers pay by cash while ATMs are considered the second most important service provided by local convenience stores after post offices.
For young people aged 18-24 in rural areas, access to a cash machine was the most valuable service available in their local shop, enforcing the importance and continued relevance of cash as a method of payment both in stores and in the wider community.
“Providing access to cash is clearly important for rural customers, but stores are under increasing pressure to either remove their machines or start charging for cash as a result of LINK cutting interchange fees,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman.
“We have not seen any evidence that the ‘super premium’ that LINK recently introduced is having an effect, and with banks leaving communities in large numbers we urge the government to closely monitor the provision of cash to rural customers in the future.”
Lowman also called on the government to ensure a level playing field for mobile and broadband connectivity. “Rural convenience stores are an indispensable hub for communities, providing a wide range of products and services to local people, many of whom would be effectively cut off if their local shop wasn’t there,” he said.
“These businesses increasingly rely on being connected to be able to provide the latest innovations and technology in their stores.”
The report is being launched in Parliament on Wednesday (27 February) where MPs in rural constituencies are pledging their support for their local convenience stores.