Countryside and environmental campaigners have welcomed a new report highlighting the threat posed to small rural shops.
The report from the Parliamentary Small Shops Group warns that major supermarkets now have a stranglehold on the retail sector and that small, independent newsagents and petrol stations could disappear in the next ten years.
In damning criticism of the supermarkets and Government policy, the MP's warn that poor regulation allows the major players to negotiate better deals from wholesalers, who then charge smaller outlets a higher price to make up the difference.
They also warn that the treasury is missing out as large retailers exploit tax loopholes to avoid paying tens of millions of pounds in tax every year.
Further criticism comes when the report highlights the ability of large retailers to sway local authority planning decisions.
Launching their report today, the all party group of MP's is calling for an independent retail regulator that would provide some protection for independent shops.
"The all party group of MPs has given clear backing to our calls for urgent action to rein in the biggest supermarkets", said Friends of the Earth's Supermarkets campaigner Sandra Bell.
Adding: "The Government and the Office of Fair Trading appear increasingly isolated in their view that market dominance is good for consumers. This report goes a long way towards finding solutions to protect the many small shops which offer genuine choice, good value, a personal service and a lifeline for local communities.
Friends of the Earth has for some time called for measures to halt the dominance of the major supermarkets, and a number of their proposals have now been backed by the MP's:
- A moratorium on any further mergers and takeovers
- A stronger code of practice to protect supermarket suppliers
- Greater powers for local communities in planning and more explicit protection for diversity and vitality of local retailing
- Revise the "two market" ruling which has allowed big supermarkets to take over convenience store chains with no investigation
- Companies to be made accountable for their damage to the environment
The Countryside Alliance is also backing the report, saying that if rural communities fail to support their local shops, then they will be lost forever.
Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart commented: "What we now need to decide is whether we want convenience or community - this is in the hands of consumers and is not something that can be legislated".
Adding: "The report suggests that a crackdown on supermarkets is necessary, but as long as there is a level playing field across the retail sector in terms of planning regulations and tax breaks we would suggest that consumers be free to choose where they spend their money.
We are not saying that supermarkets are necessarily a bad thing, just that small local retailers are a vital part of rural communities and must not be smothered. We are working for a sustainable future for rural Britain: consumer choice and community empowerment must play a huge role in this".