Battered retailers pitch rescue plan to Executive
There have been renewed calls for the Executive to take urgent steps to revitalise the retail sector across the province as a whole.
A five-point plan will today be presented to the Finance and Personnel Committee at Stormont by the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).
The scheme aims to rejuvenate the flagging retail market and re-balance the local economy.
It follows widespread concern that the Christmas trading period could be the worst on record after a drastic and sustained fall in consumer spending power.
Household budgets have been depleted recently by rising utility, fuel and food bills, while salaries have dropped drastically in real terms.
Giving evidence to the Committee on the proposed Large Retailer Levy and Small Business Rates Relief plans, NIRC director Jane Bevis will outline the five facets of the plan.
These are: a fairly funded extension of the Small Business Rates Relief Scheme; a rates reduction for all in Northern Ireland, both businesses and households; the accelerated introduction of Business Improvement Districts; an urgent overhaul of the planning system; and a commitment to develop the skills of the workforce.
"The best route to a bright economic future for Northern Ireland involves the private sector and Executive working together to attract investment, revitalise consumer confidence and regenerate town centres," Ms Bevis said.
"With the right support, retailers - small and large - can play a significant part in this.
"The Executive is right to be looking to help small businesses through rate relief, providing it is fairly funded. There also needs to be a focus on collecting bad debt and reducing the cost of local government with the aim of lowering rates for all."
A report by the British Retail Consortium this week indicated that Northern Ireland had suffered a 5.5% drop in customer footfall compared to this time last year. The figures for October also showed the latest shop vacancy level is 12.9% - which is higher than in any other UK region. Retail experts said Christmas 2011 will be extremely tough. More than 600 local shops closed in 2009, with some estimating that 2010/2011 has seen that figure double.