FT - James Lowman, chairman, ACS

ACS chief executive James Lowman

The ACS has urged MPs with rural constituencies to recognise the crucial role local shops play in their communities and to provide support in the challenges they face.

The call came as ACS launched its 2023 Rural Shop Report which highlights the contribution that the UK’s 17,720 rural shops make to their communities and the need for targeted support from government to ensure their long-term future.

The report demonstrates the close links that rural retailers have with their communities, their importance as local employers, and the impact that store closures would have on the provision of groceries in rural and otherwise isolated areas.

Key findings include:

  • rural shops provide local, flexible and secure jobs to 142,000 people, with more than half of rural colleagues walking to work;
  • more than one in four rural shops provide a local grocery delivery service to customers;
  • more than three in four rural shops (77%) have engaged in some form of community activity over the last year;
  • in the last year, rural shops have made investments worth over £214m to secure the future of their businesses.

At a launch event in Parliament attended by rural affairs minister Lord Benyon and shadow minister for food Daniel Zeichner MP, ACS encouraged MPs to support the Rural Shops Pledge (https://www.acs.org.uk/rural-shop-report-pledge) by recognising the crucial role that rural shops play in their constituencies, calling for more support for rural areas as part of the government’s levelling up agenda, supporting investment in digital infrastructure to provide rural shops with reliable broadband and mobile coverage, and enabling rural shops to maintain a viable network of free-to-use cash machines.

Speaking at the launch ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Rural shops face unique challenges compared to their more urban counterparts, with many not able to gain access to a secure and reliable broadband or mobile connection, and supply chain issues that make it more difficult to get a regular supply of products without paying excessive delivery charges.

“We’re calling on all MPs in rural areas to support their local shops at this incredibly challenging time for the whole rural convenience sector, as the loss of any rural shop would have a huge impact on the community that it serves.”

Lowman continued: “The government has failed in its attempt to come up with a solution to help rural businesses that need urgent support on energy costs, instead opting for a scattergun approach that won’t make a dent in the bills of thousands of shops facing huge hikes in the energy bills this year. Without urgent intervention to allow businesses to renegotiate fairer contracts, local shops will be forced to close their doors in numbers.”