A COUNCILLOR has taken up the role as the leading newsagent in the country.

Suleman 'Solly' Khonat has been elected the president of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents.

Coun Khonat, of the Shear Brow ward in Blackburn, represents 18,000 members and will lobby the Government on their behalf.

The 49-year-old worked as a supervisor in a carpet factory before becoming a newsagent in 1988 with a shop in Devonport Road, Blackburn.

He now runs Burnley Road News and Redlam News in Bank Top.

He said: “A lot of things have changed over the years in the industry, but a newsagent is still an essential pillar of the community in the same way that post offices are.

“It is a very big honour for me, but I am not surprised people voted for me. I have been very active in the community over the years.”

He said that he has a very busy year ahead in the role.

At the organisation’s annual conference he told delegates that tackling crime was a priority because “too many members have been driven out of the business.”

But he said the major issue was to fight a new Government Bill banning tobacco products from display.

He said: “This ban will benefit major retail firms and threat the independents. I don’t believe that this is the Government’s intention but it is what will happen and we must fight it.

“Let your local MP know that the bill threatens the existence of the local shop with all that would mean to communities the length and breadth of the country.

“I believe that the impact on our business of a serious erosion of our tobacco sales will be far greater than many of the news and magazine issues that we get so hot under the collar about.”