The minister for rural affairs has highlighted the importance of rural shops to their communities and underlined the government’s commitment to offering a “helping hand”.

Speaking at the launch of the ACS Rural Shop Report 2018 yesterday, Lord Gardiner of Kimble said: “The industrial strategy understands the importance of small businesses in the countryside. Rural shops are at the heart of their local communities and we understand their challenges.”

He pointed to the government’s record of extending rural business rate relief; reforming the way rates are calculated and reducing the frequency of revaluations from five to three years; achieving the target of 95% broadband coverage in 2017; and providing extra funding for the post office network.

Lord Gardiner also stressed the importance of ‘rural proofing’ and maintaining the sustainability of all village hubs. “If we don’t use the village shop we run the risk of losing it,” he added.

Ruth George MP, chair of the APPG on small shops, called on banks to “look at their rural proofing” in light of branch closures and the reduction in ATM interchange fees.

The ACS Rural Shop report revealed the extent to which rural c-stores are investing in vital community services such as free-to-use ATMs and post offices.

Rural shop owners invested more than £315m in their businesses last year, with 44% now offering free-to-use cash machines, 32% accommodating a post office, and 29% providing parcel services, the report found.