LOCKED-down retailers have been left fuming that some of their competitors are allowed to keep trading as long as they stock some “essential” items.

One shop boss has said big chains will “sweep up all the pre-Christmas sales” unless the rules are changed.

Although non-essential retailers have been told to close, the government has not stopped other shops from selling similar products as long as they also stock essentials.

Tony Brown, who runs the revived Beales in Poole, said there was an “inequality” in the system.

“All the big grocers can sell everything. How is that a ‘We’re all in it together’ message?” he said.

“The solution is simple: Impose the non-essential shopping rules we had in the first lockdown. If not, the nationals will sweep up all the pre-Christmas sales so when we do reopen there is nothing left for the rest of us.”

Mr Brown said he had raised the issue with several politicians but New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne had been the only one to reply.

Sir Desmond – who voted against the government’s latest package of restrictions – said: “It’s absurd and it will cost jobs and that’s why I voted against it.”

Government guidance, issued on Thursday, November 5, says: “A business selling a significant amount of essential retail may also continue to sell goods typically sold at non-essential retail. For example, a supermarket that sells food is not required to close off or cordon off aisles selling homeware.”

It says businesses with “sufficiently distinct parts” should close the parts selling non-essential items “to limit interactions between customers and the opportunity for the disease to spread”.

Mr Brown said the situation needed to be resolved by “law not guidance”.

Chris Davis, membership adviser for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Dorset, said the Covid crisis had shown the value of small firms.

“Why should those large businesses who seemingly could not cope with the madness of panic buying and presented us with nothing but empty shelves be able to bend the rules of what is essential and what is not?” he said.

“How can the big businesses say that they can open up because they happen to sell some food amongst perhaps 85 per cent non-essential products?

“The FSB represents the interests of small business which are well over 90 per cent of the economy and are to be threatened with business failure through no fault of their own, putting the high street at risk in favour of the often wealthy shareholders of these megalithic enterprises.”

He said retailers had introduced Covid security measures and suggested the public should be allowed to buy what they wanted.

M&S said it was opening in line with the guidance published overnight, with all its cafes closed. Stores which offered a combination of food and non-food products would remain open, but non-food floors would close except where access was required.