James Lowman has a busy month ahead, representing independent retailers at the political party conferences

As we approach the end of the summer, kids go back to school, nights draw in and the politicians embark on the peculiar spectacle that is party conference season. These are generally derided as pointless PR exercises, but with an election fast approaching it is crucial that ACS uses the opportunity to place local shops and our priorities in the spotlight.

In the skirmishes on social, environmental and planning issues there is much for us to influence and an opportunity to get our voice heard.

Alcohol will be a major part of election debate. Opposition parties are likely to round on the government for creating 24-hour drinking and 'Binge Britain'. Conservative leader David Cameron laid down his marker recently, promising tax hikes and licence revocations. Our job is to make a case for balance and warn that another major shake-up of licensing rules will cause years of confusion and disruption.

Once MPs finally get back to Westminster on October 12 they will be voting on the tobacco display ban, so we will be working hard at all three conferences, explaining why the alternative measures such as tackling the illegal market and stamping out proxy purchasing are better ways to prevent youth smoking.

Above all else, conference season is a time for us to remind politicians about the reason why we are important to them. Every MP elected will represent about 80 convenience stores and every one of his or her potential voters is one of our customers. For this reason MPs have to care about the big issues facing retailing, such as the future of the high street, planning law and the power of supermarkets.

Getting the message across now could reap benefits into the next Parliament. That's why party conference season marks the beginning of our push towards the election.