More than 150 retailers gathered at the ACS Heart of the Community conference on Tuesday to send a clear message to government that cost increases must not continue at their current rate.

Speaking at the annual conference, Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “We are reaching a critical point where despite being some of the hardest working people in the UK, convenience store owners are facing cost-cutting measures in several aspects of their business.”

Business minister Michael Fallon said he recognised that business rates were a major issue, but said Labour’s plan to cut rates by increasing corporation tax for larger companies was a “false choice”.

“Labour’s plans will rob Peter to pay Paul,” he said. However, he promised to work closely with the sector. “Convenience stores are an integral part of communities and the sector is a success story. On top of the social value it provides, the sector is worth £35.6bn to the economy,” he added.

Shadow business secretary Chukka Umunna said 1.5 million business properties would benefit from Labour’s plan to cut rates in 2014 and freeze them in 2016. He also said Labour would “not force anyone to pay the Living Wage”.