ST Ives and Huntingdon were chosen as two of four national examples of innovation in small towns at a Parliamentary reception last week organised by the charity Action for Market Towns.

MPs from around the country joined Action for Market Towns' staff and board members to debate the future for small towns - where over one fifth of the the population live.

Jonathan Djanogly, MP for Huntingdon, who hosted the reception, referred in his opening speech to AMT members who had used their town centre partnerships to secure prosperous futures, seize opportunities, tackle neglect and revitalise their town centres.

He highlighted St Ives's SITI loyalty card scheme and Huntingdon's 'Make it your Market' programme as particularly successful initiatives.

He told fellow MPs: "St Ives launched its own local loyalty scheme, the SITI card, which won a regional award in 2010. Over 50 independent businesses have signed up to the scheme, and more than 7,000 loyalty cards have been distributed.

"Evidence shows that footfall in the town has increased against a national backdrop of decreasing figures.

"Huntingdon developed its 'Make it your Market' programme, which won a business and economy award in 2011. This project combines free advice on how to set up your own market trader business with discounts on market stall pitches and the free loan of market stall equipment, removing many barriers to start-up businesses.

"My colleagues and I are committed to tackling the challenges facing our small towns head on. We have witnessed a long-term decline of the high street, a problem that has accelerated in recent years - in large part because of the squeeze on consumers resulting from the recession," he added.

Chris Wade, AMT's chief executive, said the charity was developing a town-wide loyalty card aimed at attracting new customers and capturing a percentage of spend to re-invest in improving and promoting town centres.