By Daniel Hunter

With less than a week to go before Christmas, John Allan, Chairman of FSB Merseyside, West Cheshire and Wigan and National Vice Chairman, is urging shoppers to support independent high street retailers — or risk losing them for good.

According to the Competition Commission, since 2000 there has been a steady growth of 3% in new supermarkets owned by the UK's five largest retailers.

However, in 2006, the All-party Small Shops Group reported that up to 2,000 small shops were closing every year. It warned that, should the present rate of decline continue, most of the UK's smaller retailers could be forced to close by 2015. In its 2008 report, the Parliamentary Enterprise Group repeated that warning. According to some reports, the annual shop closure rate in could now be closer to 5,000.

Championing the FSB’s ‘Keep Trade Local’ campaign, which aims to reverse the trend of decline on the high street and defend choice and diversity for consumers by focusing on planning, parking and supermarket procurement, Mr Allan warned that the present rate of small shop closures is “worrying”.

“High streets in Merseyside, Wigan and across Cheshire are in a dilapidated state. Just take a walk and see for yourself. Small shops are struggling with mounting overheads and other issues and the rate at which they are closing is worrying," he said.

“We have spiralling VAT and rents and, on many streets, increasing business rates. The Government’s move in the Autumn Statement to extend small business rate relief for a year beyond April 2013 will help but small shop owners need certainty in the long-term.

“In addition, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) must once and for all speed up the appeals process for business owners and tenants seeking rate relief — some are forced to wait years.

“There is also the aggressive dominance and predatory pricing strategies of supermarkets, which can offer free parking at a time it is becoming increasingly scarce on the high street as councils use it as a cash cow at the expense of economic growth.

“Yet it is local independent traders who offer the best quality, choice and service and it is up to us to support them. The message to consumers in this region is to shop local this Christmas. The future of small shops is in our hands - we either use them or lose them.”

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