An 11% increase in the national minimum wage would force thousands of independent store proprietors to work longer hours and threaten some with closure, according to a straw poll taken this week among The Grocer 4 Independent readers. Last year's minimum wage increase was 11% and small business proprietors fear that the Low Pay Commission, which is preparing a report on pay rates, will fail to take into account the independent sector's ability to pay in its recommendations. The Wholesale Confectioners & Tobacco Alliance is pressing for regionality to be built into the minimum wage rates and this week retailers in the south of England pointed out the shortage of staff in the south forced them to pay above the minimum rate. Gloria and Tom Williams own a Mace store in Hook Norton, near Banbury, Oxfordshire, and said the costs of running a small shop were increasing all the time. Tom said: "Any wage increase in the order of 11% would cause a serious problem for many and could be the nail in the coffin for others." Gloria added: "There is little extra business to be had and, if we put our prices up we become uncompetitive. We have to try to absorb such increases, but it hits the bottom line. "We would like to pay more but even paying the minimum rates means that our wage bill is more than 6.5% of turnover. We employ five part-time workers and some students as shelf-fillers in the evening, but the shape of our store means we can't reduce staff numbers." Paul Cheesbrough, the proprietor of a Costcutter store at Minster, Isle of Sheppey, Kent, said the retail trade could not afford another 11% minimum wage increase. He added: "The burden is not only on wages. The government continues to heap unpaid work on us such as tax credits and new accounting procedures." Cheesbrough said higher wages would lead to higher national insurance stamps for the employer and more pressure on cash flow. In addition there was the north/south divide in that the overall cost of living was higher in the south. He concluded: "When wages increase we prefer to reduce staff hours rather than terminate their employment. However, some shops will have no alternative but to reduce staff numbers and that puts pressure on the proprietor to work more hours." Londis retailer Peter Williams from St Albans, Hertfordshire, believed a big wage increase could be catastrophic for some. He said: "We pay well above the minimum rate and even more for supervisors and managers. When rates went up last time, we didn't pass the full percentage on to our more senior workers, but I believe we would have to in future. "Our wage rates are around 7% of turnover for our 14 part-time staff. The cost of living in the south and the shortage of good labour, means we already pay more than our northern colleagues." Williams believed that escalating operational costs could lead many proprietors to question whether it is worth running a small retail business. {{GROCER CLUB }}