The full impact of the foot and mouth crisis on rural and tourist area shops is unlikely to be clear until towards the end of the year. The disease has been doing its worst for 10 weeks and although the government says the epidemic has peaked, few traders appear to hold out much hope of a summer revival for their holiday trade. Mike Goodman, assistant director of the Village Retail Services Association (ViRSA), says casualties will be inevitable, but there is some good news on business rate relief and measures introduced to help rural shopkeepers in crisis. A parliamentary Bill has been introduced which widens the catchment of the 50% mandatory rate relief from the sole village shop to all village shops. The Association of Convenience Stores is claiming a victory on this one because it lobbied vigorously to achieve the relief. The bad news is that the new rate isn't here yet. It is promised "no later than April 1, 2002". So what else can ailing village shops do? There are several things. They can apply for hardship relief, a fund which covers all rural businesses. Rates can be reduced by up to 100% if the council deems the request reasonable (ie, if it is in the public interest for the shop to stay open). The government has also taken a couple of other measures that may also prove useful. The Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise have launched a helpline for rural businesses for the duration of the foot and mouth outbreak to help with tax concerns. The number is 0845 300 0157, and it is open from 8am to midnight seven days a week. Calls are charged at the local rate. The Department of Trade and Industry has also announced that retail businesses suffering cashflow problems because of the effects of the disease can apply for loans of up to £250,000 from the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme. This is not as impressive as it sounds ­ the scheme is there to assist firms unable to raise finance in the conventional ways because of a lack of security. Independent food retailers, generally, would have enough equity to be ruled ineligible. What would have been better, Goodman says, are interest-free loans or "soft" low interest loans. Finally, if any trader thinks bankruptcy is a possibility, there is help at hand, even at this stage. Gill Hankey, who runs the Bankruptcy Advisory Service, has assisted many, many people facing a financial abyss, and saved many of them their homes and their businesses. Membership costs just £15 a year. You can contact her on 01482 633035. Goodman points out that the tourist season for the leisure industry officially began on Mother's Day. "There are great swathes of the country that rely totally on summer trade to see them through the bad winter months," he says. Village shops are already suffering, he says, and the situation will grow worse. {{GROCER CLUB }}