Industry bodies have slammed Government plans to turn empty shops into art galleries and community projects.

Communities secretary Hazel Blears this week announced a £3m fund to help turn empty units into temporary social enterprises, art displays or learning centres to reduce the negative impact empty shops have on the high street.

However, the ACS and the BRC claimed the Government should concentrate on lowering the tax burden on small businesses in order to help them stay open, rather than looking at creative ways to use the space after they had shut.

"Art displays are not the answer for empty shops," said BRC director general Stephen Robertson. "We agree that vacant premises blight town centres, but contriving schemes to fill them with other uses is tackling the symptom while ignoring the cause."

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: " Thriving local shops play a vital social role and helping them flourish is one of the best things the Government could do for communities."

The trade bodies called on Government to scrap the 5% increase in business rates due over the next two years and the rates revaluation due next April.