Rural convenience retailers have backed the Association of Convenience Store’s (ACS) calls for the government to introduce an action plan to relieve business pressures.
The ACS published its Rural Shops Report 2017 last week, which urged the government to keep to its manifesto pledge to sustain 3,000 rural Post Offices.
It also called on ministers to: address the lack of fast mobile data and broadband in rural stores; ensure policy developments are ‘rural proofed at a national and local level’; and to allow rural petrol stations to benefit from rural rate relief.
Ralph Patel, owner of The look-In store in Woodmansterne, Surrey, said: “It is mightily important that the government protects local shops and post offices in rural areas, because they are more than just businesses, they are hubs in the community and people rely on their services. Some elderly people who cannot travel depend on them and for many it is the only trip out they will make that day.
“The pressure on rural businesses is a combination of things - for example, the living wage rises do not reflect the demographics of rural villages and means that shops can’t employ enough staff, which makes them a target for retail crime,” added Ralph.
The report comes ahead of the scheduled termination of the Rural Shops Alliance (RSA) in June this year, due largely to cuts to local authority budgets.
One rural retailer, who wished to remain anonymous, described the RSA’s impending closure as a “big blow”.
He added that the ACS was “spot on” regarding the effects of slow broadband speeds. “This morning my speeds are 37 download and 9 upload. This compounds the time-wasting regulatory burden; ticking boxes instead of actually running the business properly.
“Other ‘footfall drivers’ such as the Lotto and newspapers are declining in sales and profitability; they will continue to erode the sustainability of rural retail outlets.”
”What the government does not understand is that rural businesses are often the only shop for miles and the community relies on them. It is important they can afford to stay open.”
Barry Jennings, Layer Village Store, near Colchester
”The government overlooks small rural businesses. Some villages aren’t as affluent as cities and towns. The government should take a tailored approach to legislation.”
Louise Hammond, AW&D Hammond, Halesworth, Suffolk
RURAL SHOPS REPORT 2017
The Rural Shops Report 2017 highlights a number of key points, including:
A higher proportion of rural shops are in Wales than any other part of the UK
Rural c-stores have invested £311m in their businesses over the past year, with rural symbols investing an average of £13,305 each and other rural independents £8,822
1% have prescription collection services
54% offer bill payment services
3% offer dry-cleaning
2% have a photo booth
20% offer click and collect or local grocery delivery