rural economy

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has called for government focus on supporting rural business infrastructure and retaining access to services within the rural economy, in its response to an inquiry by the House of Lords Rural Economy Committee.

There are over 19,000 rural convenience stores in mainland UK, offering vital services to their local community such as free-to-use cash machines (44%), bill payment services (54%) and recycling services (40%), noted ACS citing its Rural Shop Report 2018.

The submission outlines support for investment in digital infrastructure as reliable broadband connections and mobile coverage have become essential for rural shops. Poor connectivity can act as a barrier to improving productivity as it can affect card payments, ATM transactions and post office services, it said.

The submission also highlights the need for effective monitoring of LINK’s commitments to protect ATM coverage in rural areas and communication with retailers when bank branches close through the Access to Banking Standard.

James Lowman, chief executive of the ACS, said: “Rural convenience stores are increasingly dynamic in meeting the changing needs of consumers. Convenience stores are valued by local communities, providing over 143,000 jobs and 57% are trading in isolated locations with no other retail or service businesses close by, meaning they are vital for the areas they serve.”

Over the last year, rural convenience stores have invested £315 million in their businesses. In the submission, ACS calls for the business rates system to incentivise investment by allowing retailers to offset investment against their rates bills and expand rural rate relief for rural forecourts.