Proposals for a levy on large retail premises have been attacked by the British Retail Consortium.
The levy is intended to protect Northern Ireland’s traditional city and town centres from out-of-town shopping developments, but the BRC claims that 38% of the new tax would actually be paid by town and city centre stores.
The BRC says 73,500 people are employed in retail in Northern Ireland, some 9% of the workforce, making it the largest business sector for jobs. But employment would be put at risk by the tax, claims the BRC.
BRC Director General Stephen Robertson said: “New Assembly members must realise retail is not a piggybank to be broken into when it needs some extra cash. The retail sector will deliver far more for Northern Ireland if it is supported and helped to grow, bringing in investment and creating jobs. With retail sales falling by 1.9% in March compared with a year ago, retail margins are already under severe pressure.
“This proposed tax on large retailers is contradictory. It's supposed to provide support for town centres, but up to 40% of it could be paid by the flagship stores that help make town centres such attractive shopping destinations.
“It's supposed to bring in extra funds for the Executive, but risks destroying the bigger economic gains that would come from retail growth and job creation.
“Support for our high streets is vital. Thriving town centres need successful retail outlets which in turn boost tourism and bring in business for other sectors.
“Retail is not a sector that looks for subsidies. It is naturally entrepreneurial. We're not looking for handouts; we're looking for hands-off.”