The government has been urged to provide more support for rural convenience stores in its levelling up plan.

As part of the launch of the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) 2022 Rural Shop Report, the trade body highlighted how these stores “act as a lifeline” for their customers by providing access to vital services.

The report found that half (49%) of rural stores operate with no other retail or service businesses close by and that if their local shop was no longer there, customers would have to travel an average of 3.3 miles in order to access these services and to feed their families.

Vital services offered by these stores free to use cash machines (48%), local grocery delivery (26%) and Post Offices (22%).

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Rural shops are a lifeline to thousands of communities and have gone above and beyond to ensure that they can keep providing essentials throughout all of the disruption caused by supply chain issues and the ongoing pandemic. This is despite rural shops facing significant additional challenges compared to their more urban counterparts – thousands of rural shops do not have adequate broadband or mobile coverage, and many are at the farthest tip of their supply chains struggling to get a choice of supply and the full range of products their customers need.

“Providing targeted support to rural shops and other rural businesses must be integral to the Government’s levelling up agenda to ensure that the gap between rural stores and their urban counterparts doesn’t widen even further.”

In response to the ACS call, Minister for Rural Affairs Lord Benyon said: “Rural businesses are central to this Government’s ambitious levelling up agenda.

“This report illustrates the vital role which rural shops play in sustaining their communities, both through their significant economic contribution and as valuable social hubs. The report also demonstrates their fundamental resilience and the success of government initiatives to help such businesses keep going throughout the pandemic.

“By better understanding the needs and experiences of rural businesses, we can continue to help rural areas grow and improve as we build back better.”