Campaigners say action is needed so 19,128 rural shops can continue to provide essential services. Many village stores double up as the local Post Office for rural customers who would otherwise be isolated. 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, according to the Rural Shop Report 2017 by the Association of Convenience Stores. Village shops are often at the 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.
Recommendations to Government include producing a dedicated plan to ensure the government keeps its manifesto pledge to sustain 3,000 rural post offices. Over the past ten years, there have been over 1,500 Post Office closures in rural areas. The report also calls for changes to the business rates system so that rural petrol stations can benefit from rural business rate relief, not just small rural convenience stores It says the lack of fast mobile data coverage in rural communities and delivering high speed broadband for rural stores should also be addressed.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Rural shops are facing rising costs in many areas of their business.” Increases included rising wage rates for staff and revisions to the business rates valuation that penalise investment. “The government must ensure that all rural shops are given the right conditions to be able to trade successfully,” said Mr Lowman. “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.”
The report also highlights the important role that community shops play in rural communities. There are now 347 community owned shops in the UK, primarily run by volunteers that have come together to provide a much needed service in isolated areas. Peter Couchman, chief executive of the Plunkett Foundation said: “All over the UK, increasing numbers of rural communities are turning to the community ownership model to safeguard local services such as shops and post offices.” Once in community ownership, these co-operative business are owned and run democratically by local people for the benefit of local people.