Big businesses have again hit out at the Finance Minister's proposed large stores retail levy.
Representatives from retailers including Asda, Ikea and B-amp;Q gave evidence at a meeting of the finance committee at Stormont yesterday and claimed that the plans would wipe out profits and jobs.
The scheme could affect around 75 stores and the £100,000 per year collected would fund an extension of the small business rate relief scheme.
Iain Joannides of Scandinavian furniture sales giant Ikea said sales at its Belfast store had shrunk twice as fast as its Dublin store and that the rates paid in Northern Ireland are already higher than those paid for similar-sized stores in the rest of the UK.
B-amp;Q's Dermot Walsh said the levy would wipe out the firm's entire profit from its nine stores in Northern Ireland, while Asda spokesman David Paterson said the tax should apply to other major businesses like banks, utilities and airports.
Jane Bevis of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) presented a five-point plan to the committee aimed at revitalising the retail sector.
The scheme calls for, among other things, a rates reduction for all in Northern Ireland, the accelerated introduction of business improvement districts and an urgent overhaul of the planning system.
Ms Bevis claimed that the tax could mean bigger businesses paid rates 16 times higher than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
She also slammed the proposals as a "tax on jobs" and claimed Finance Minister Sammy Wilson was using the larger retailers as a "cash cow".
During the debate, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) was praised for its "realistic perspective".
DUP MLA Adrian McQuillan thanked the FSB's representatives for "bringing some realism to the committee".
Roger Pollen, head of external affairs with the group, told the committee that the extension to the scheme would help inject millions of pounds into thousands of local small businesses while the decreasing rate of corporation tax would help offset any additional costs that may be incurred by some larger firms.
"The FSB believes that putting a levy on larger businesses to cover these costs should only be a temporary measure that will be more than balanced out by the decreasing rate of corporation tax being enjoyed by these firms," he said.
Earlier this month it emerged that the majority of respondents to the consultation on the levy are supportive of the proposal.
Slightly over half of those opposed to the move stated that the retail levy would affect store expansion and employment. Three businesses, 13 district councils, 10 organisations, four political representatives and one ratepayer were in favour of the plans.