Forecourt and convenience retailers came out in force last month to attend the inaugural Heart of the Community Seminar organised by the Association of

Convenience Stores (ACS). Its aim was to highlight the importance of community retailing and the vital role that local shops play.

With presentations from MPs from the main three parties, it gave retailers in the 160-strong audience the chance to put their questions right where it counts. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Planning Minister Iain Wright and MPs Philip Dunne, David Kidney and Lorely Burt all took part in the event, held at the Imperial War Museum in London.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "This event has been a fantastic opportunity for retailers to hear from MPs and ask them about their views on the issues that affect them. Retailers are at the forefront on many policy issues that are important to all the political parties and often police the laws that Government brings in. Local shops play a vital role in many communities and today gave the opportunity to demonstrate this."

Nick Clegg said local shops were really at the heart of their community, providing an invaluable service to local people. "Retailers everywhere, like families, are feeling the squeeze as we enter into a recession, so it is vital that we remember that small shops are important to communities, to customers and to the economy."

During a round table session MPs explained the complex workings of government and how retailers should go about having an influence. They said deluging MPs with letters from as many people as possible on a particular issue would encourage them to act.

ACS vice chairman and former Forecourt Trader of the Year award winner Jonathan James set the tone of the event when he explained the need for retailers to work together with MPs to iron out issues such as planning, Sunday Trading, tobacco and alcohol. "There needs to be a change on how our sector is perceived. We need to speak with real strength and grow our influence, with all of us taking responsibility." His four key pieces of advice to retailers were: establish a relationship with your local MP; be clear about what you want them to do to help; be honest - don’t cry wolf, ie don’t say something will put you out of business when it will only be detrimental; and always stick to community issues - don’t get involved in party politics."