Small shops have called on government to implement a ‘supermarket tax’ to levy large grocers and out-of-town shopping centres to buoy the high street.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has called for town halls to levy supermarkets and shopping centres as fears rise that a swathe of small shops could close when business rates are expected to rise next April.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said that the levy - dubbed a ‘supermarket tax’ - would “alleviate the burden on in-town retailers [and] would be localism in action”, the Mail on Sunday reported.

The Localism Act allows councils to reduce rates on the high street, however they must then find ways to plug the gap in their finances from elsewhere.

Vacancy rates in the UK remain high as consumer spending remains subdued, leading to poor performance at small stores.

Lowman said: “It is time to consider more radical solutions to help ailing high streets. Giving councils the power to raise revenue on large, out-of-town retailers and using that to alleviate the burden on in-town retailers would be localism in action.”

Conlumino analyst Neil Saunders criticised the calls. He tweeted: “Supermarket tax is a very bad idea indeed; as Lincoln once noted: you cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”

Separately, ACS and high street campaigners have received a fillip this week as business secretary Vince Cable reiterated that fact he is “sceptical” about the advantages of relaxing Sunday trading.

The campaign for relaxation is backed by large retailers including Asda.

Lowman said last week: “We are already seeing our members reporting falling sales of anywhere between 10-30% week on week [as a result of bigger shops opening longer during the Olympics] but the most concerning figures come from our most recent Voice of Local Shops survey, which have shown that over the last three months, retailers have become significantly less optimistic about the rest of the year in the face of threats of permanent liberalisation of Sunday Trading regulations.”