Northern Ireland’s large retailers have urged the Executive to take decisive action to support the troubled sector.
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has delivered a five-point plan to the Assembly’s finance committee.
The NIRC is urging the Executive to abandon the proposed Large Retailer Levy and fund the extension of the Small Business Rates Relief Scheme by other means. Other measures proposed include a wider rates reduction scheme — lifting the rates burden on all commercial and domestic properties in an attempt to lower costs and boost retail demand. The Executive is also being asked to move urgently to overhaul the planning system, to commit to a programme of workforce skill development and to introduce Business Improvement Districts on an accelerated basis.
NIRC Director, Jane Bevis said: “The Executive is right to be looking to help small businesses through rate relief, providing it is fairly funded. That means all sectors which stand to benefit should contribute. There also needs to be a focus on collecting bad debt and reducing the cost of local government in Northern Ireland, with the ultimate aim of lowering rates for all.
“Retailers are at the heart of our towns, but many need a shot in the arm. Reforming the planning system and prioritising town centres, along with urgently legislating to create Business Improvement Districts, would give a much-needed boost to regeneration efforts. Finally, retailers want to see their commitment to staff training matched by national initiatives to improve the skills of the workforce.”
Figures produced by NIRC suggest that retailing footfall in Northern Ireland has fallen by 5.5% in the past year — the third worst regional performance in the UK.