The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has called on the government to help secure the future of the UK’s 19,128 rural shops and petrol stations in a new report.
The report reveals that rural shops are often the only place where customers in their local area can get essential goods and services. More than half of rural stores (59%) operate entirely on their own, with no other retail/service businesses close by.
Rural stores are at the very heart of the community, with one in five store owners in rural areas having run their store for over 25 years. Rural shop owners also work long hours to serve their local area, with 22% working more than 70 hours per week and 21% taking no holiday at all throughout the year.
The recommendations to Government include:
• producing a dedicated plan to ensure that the Government keeps its manifesto pledge to sustain 3,000 rural post offices;
• changing the business rates system so that rural petrol stations can benefit from rural business rate relief, not just small rural convenience stores;
• addressing the lack of fast mobile data coverage in rural communities and delivering high speed broadband for rural stores.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "Rural shops are facing rising costs in many areas of their business, including increases in wage rates for staff, revisions to the business rates valuation that penalise investment, and an uncertain future for the thousands of stores that run post offices in isolated areas. For rural stores, they have to deal with these issues while also being hampered by a lack of fast mobile connectivity and unacceptable broadband capacity."
"The Government must ensure that all rural shops are given the right conditions to be able to trade successfully. Without their local store, thousands of customers in rural areas would have no access to post office services, essential groceries and other services like bill payments."
National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) chief executive George Thomson said: "The UK’s 3,000-strong rural branch network fulfils an essential social and economic role. However these branches are often unprofitable and currently receive a minimum level of public investment. We know there are pressures on the public purse, however the Government must be careful not to be over ambitious in reducing the subsidy. We fear that too large a cut will result in many rural post offices being forced to close."