Conservative Party leader David Cameron has promised tax breaks and regulatory reform to help small shop owners compete with major supermarkets.

Speaking at a Campaign to Protect Rural England event this week Cameron offered independent convenience retailers a ray of hope .

Cameron said that if the Conservatives took power he would give greater recognition to the "social value" of small shops and offer not only tax breaks but also relaxed regulations, less red tape and a more favourable planning process.

"It makes sense for small shops to benefit not only from retention and strengthening of the needs test in planning law but also from an advantageous tax and regulatory regime," said Cameron, adding that this would " tip the balance back in their favour against the larger retailers."

The Association of Convenience Stores welcomed the comments.

"At this stage it is very broad policy but what we welcome is his emphasis on the social value of small shops," says James Lowman, ACS chief executive. "That is something that is missing in current government policy and is beyond the remit of the Competition Commission."

The ACS is speculating that reforms could include business rate and corporation tax relief and a more lenient regulatory system in areas such as waste disposal and licensing.

The Commission report, released earlier this month, recommended the introduction of a competition test for all new large-store developments.

However, it did not address the wider planning issues, which are being reviewed separately by the government.

The ACS criticised the commission for dismissing data demonstrating the number of convenience stores was declining.

Industry-recognised figures produced by IGD and The Grocer's owner William Reed Business Media reveal that the number of convenience stores fell from 55,798 in 2000 to 49,530 in 2008. In the last year alone 796 convenience stores have closed, according to the figures.