National Independents' Week has received surprise backing from the British Retail Consortium.

The BRC, which is better known for championing large high street retailers including the major supermarkets unexpectedly came forward to throw its weight behind the FWD's annual event, which ends today.

"Small and independent retailers are crucial to communities and the success of UK retailing overall but the difficulties many are facing must be recognised and addressed," said BRC director general Stephen Robertson.

Its backing comes as the health of the high street has been catapulted up the political agenda following the appointment last month of TV retail guru Mary Portas as a government advisor.

The BRC said business rates, rents and parking ­access were the key issues facing independent retailers but disagreed with the Association of Convenience Stores' assessment that out-of-town supermarkets and the expansion of supermarkets into smaller convenience formats were also pressing problems.

"The FWD is just recognising the importance of the local retailer in the community and we agree," said a BRC spokesman.

National Independents' Week this year moved away from encouraging retailers to hold store parties. Instead, the FWD used the event to lobby Westminster by continuing its programme of MP store visits under its My Shop is Your Shop scheme.

Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey, visited a Premier store in her constituency to present owners Simon Collister and Joe Harty with a Gold Award for Community Retailing.

Collister said he used the opportunity to raise a number of issues with Eagle including "the rapid expansion of the major ­supermarkets into smaller formats, endangering many independent shops".

Meanwhile, deputy speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst, MP for Saffron Walden, presented a Gold Award to CTN retailer Willet's of Thaxted in Essex.