The needs of the small store industry were given little consideration in last week's Budget, the last of the current parliament.

With just over a month to go before the General Election, Chancellor Alistair Darling announced another round of duty hikes on alcohol and tobacco, as well as inflated employment costs through a hike in the national minimum wage.

Alcohol duty rates increased by 2% above inflation, while the cost of a packet of cigarettes rose by 15p 1% above inflation a move traders fear will push smokers towards the illicit market.

Disappointment was also expressed at a perceived lack of action on business rates. Although the government will fund a temporary increase in the level of small business rate relief, the threshold is so low that few local shops will benefit.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said the Chancellor did not go far enough.

"He should have made the rate relief automatic for those entitled and increased the thresholds to ensure that more local shops would benefit," he said.

Some initiatives to support small businesses gained praise, such as a four-year extension to HMRC's Time to Pay scheme, a five-day target for payments by public bodies and a 'Credit Adjudication Service' with powers to overturn loan refusals.

Forum of Private Business chief executive Phil Orford said: "While we're sceptical of the motives, coming before a General Election, there are some reasons to celebrate."

Suleman Khonat of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents added: "It remains to be seen whether the measures deliver the much-needed support that small businesses have been calling for."

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