The Association of Convenience Stores has called on the government to provide more support for rural convenience stores as part of the ‘levelling up’ agenda.
It comes as its 2022 Rural Shop Report, published today, highlighted the vital role that these businesses play in their local communities and to the economy.
The report revealed half of rural stores trade in isolated locations with no other retail or service businesses close by, making them a lifeline to customers who need to access vital services such as free-to-use cash machines, local grocery delivery and Post Offices.
It also showed 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 feed their families.
“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,” said ACS CEO James Lowman.
“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 an ACS policy briefing, the trade body outlined other key examples of how the levelling up agenda could provide better opportunities for rural convenience stores.
This included introducing a new Community Relief to protect key amenities in these areas after Rural Relief was subsumed by the expansion of Small Business Relief in 2017. This meant the business rates system did not properly reflect the increased support required to sustain businesses and access to services in more isolated areas, the ACS said.
It also highlighted rural communities being provided with a more visible police presence to help disrupt repeat offending. The ACS said police resources remained under pressure, which was causing a slow crime response in rural communities, particular to shop theft, which can be a trigger for violence.
“Rural businesses are central to this government’s ambitious levelling up agenda,” said rural affairs minister Richard Benyon.
“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.”