The proposed new levy on large retailers should either be scrapped, or substantially amended, the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said in its response to consultation by the Department of Finance and Personnel.
NIRC – the sister body to the British Retail Consortium – has urged MLAs to give the measure full scrutiny and not use the accelerated passage procedure to rush it through the Assembly.
Finance minister Sammy Wilson plans to use the Large Retailer Levy to pay for rate relief for small businesses. But NIRC says the draft measure is badly framed and would subsidise many large businesses – including bookies and banks – that operate from small premises.
NIRC says the relief should either be restricted to genuine small retailers or all large businesses should contribute.
It also believes the measure should be time-limited. Without those changes, says NIRC, inward investment could be put in jeopardy.
Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director, Jane Bevis, explained: “The retail sector has the potential to attract major investment to Northern Ireland. It’s in a position to drive community regeneration while creating jobs. But, instead of appreciating that the sector is a key part of rebalancing the economy, the Executive is preparing to single it out for extra taxation.
“We understand that small retailers face tough times, which is why we support small business rates relief as a short-term measure. But it must genuinely be targeted at small businesses and it must be designed so that it doesn’t deter inward investment.”
Tesco, a member of the NIRC, said publicly that the proposal put at risk its investment plans.
Sammy Wilson told the Assembly that: “Tesco’s response to this has been — I choose my words quite deliberately — absolutely pathetic.
“Here is a major company that is used to bullying its way around. However, it is not going to use bully-boy tactics on something that the Assembly has looked at, that has been proposed in the Budget and is a sensible way forward.”