The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has warned that independent fuel retailers will need to raise their game to survive as it launches a fighting fund to stave off the march of the supermarkets.

With the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) expected to publish an interim verdict on whether or not to refer the grocery market to the Competition Commission this month, the ACS is calling on all neighbourhood retailers to rally behind the cause. The Community Shops Campaign Trust has been set up to help fund the battle, with the ACS asking all local retailers to support it with a suggested £5 per member of staff contribution.

Launching the fund, ACS chief executive David Rae said: "We believe that whatever the OFT says when it reports we must keep on fighting for a fairer market and a more secure future for all neighbourhood retailers of whatever heritage. We are now faced with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to secure the future for small businesses and retail diversity in the UK."

The money will help cover the costs of activity through to 2008, which could run up to £665,000. This would include funding an appeal to the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) should the OFT decision go against the ACS and the costs of submissions to a Competition Commission review.

A recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Small Shops paints a bleak picture of the future for independent fuel retailers, saying that by 2015 many are ’very unlikely to survive’ - unless the supermarkets are controlled.

James Lowman, communications & public affairs manager of the ACS, said: "The report proves what we’ve been saying all along, which is that if something isn’t done quickly we could be left without a diverse market to support. We may end up having to artificially try to get small retailers back into the market."

However, he added: "What’s important is how people react. It’s important not to just give up. Retailers need to focus on providing something different, providing great service and focusing on the customer."