Independent newsagents have described the government’s decision to exclude them from the tobacco display ban working group as a “cold day for democracy”.

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) said it was “outraged” by the Department of Health’s (DOH) decision. The only other group to be excluded from the working group are tobacco manufacturers.

The NFRN's involvement in the process was limited to providing expert witness statements to the Judicial Review in November and January, which legal advisers said was no reason to exempt it from the working group, according to Nicki Hayward, NFRN public affairs officer. It had been invited to engage with the DOH on March 15, only to receive a note the following day saying it had been excluded from the working group.

“This extraordinary development comes as a complete shock as our witness statements were provided last November and this January with no requirements pending to provide any further information,” the NFRN said in a statement.

“Since then we have been engaging with the government and it is very unclear as to what has suddenly changed for the NFRN to be deemed ‘inappropriate’ to engage with.”

It said NFRN members in England returned the highest response to the consultation on tobacco displays, which “has clearly contributed to the concessions made to small shops”. 

NFRN national president Parminder Singh said: “It is outrageous that the Department has excluded the only organisation representing independent newsagents. We have asked for the ‘legal advice’ they have referred to in excluding us and none has been forthcoming. Our legal advice has been that there is no legal grounds to exclude us, so this is unsurprising that they have failed to produce any viable grounds on which to justify their actions. 

“It is a cold day for democracy when government decides to exclude 16,500 voices from key decision making processes on legislation that is of crucial importance.”

A spokesman for the DOH said it was happy to receive contributions from the NFRN and to "keep them informed of proceedings".

"But for legal reasons, the active involvement of NFRN in the ongoing Judicial Review cases challenging the tobacco display legislation means that it would be inappropriate for the NFRN to be involved in the working group drafting guidance on implementing that legislation," he added.

The interests of small shops will be well represented by the participation of the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) in the preliminary work.

The working group will develop the first draft of guidance to help retailers implement the legislation ending tobacco displays in shops in England. The guidance will also help local authority trading standards officers who will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the legislation.