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'Entrepreneurship is crucial for the future of the local economy'

Glyn Roberts of Retail NI on why his organisation is delighted to sponsor the new category of Emerging Business Start-Up of the Year in the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in partnership with Ulster Bank, which take place on Thursday

There is no more important an issue than creating the conditions to start up the next generation of entrepreneurs, particularly in our local retail sector. Indeed, a post-Brexit Northern Ireland needs to be a self-confident, outward-looking innovative region that is the very best place in the UK and Ireland to locate and, crucially, to start a business.

Recently we published our new Programme for Government, Creating a Northern Ireland Economic Powerhouse, in which we outlined the need for a new belt and braces entrepreneurship strategy to include a future Executive, Invest NI, councils, colleges, banks and the private sector working together on an agreed plan.

The Department for the Economy could take forward a new Enterprise and Small Business Bill to craft the policy framework to create conditions for the next generation of entrepreneurs, particularly new independent retailers.

We all know the 12.5% corporation tax rate is no silver bullet and, without real investment in skills and infrastructure, its potential will be lost.

In light of Brexit and the rapidly changing world economy, we need to see a reboot of economic policy toward a stronger focus on skills, infrastructure and a radical reform of business rates.

Our six further education (FE)colleges, working in partnership with retailers to develop entrepreneurial skills, is essential to support its growth. A new vocational route, running parallel to academic, from school right through to university, must also be created.

We will work with the Department for the Economy and the FE sector to establish a new Level 3 Retail Apprenticeship to help bring forward the next generation of retail entrepreneurs.

Several years ago, Retail NI was successful in lobbying for the introduction of the Empty Premises Rate Relief Scheme, which gives new start entrepreneurs a 50% reduction in their first-year rates bill if they take an office or shop that has been empty for a year.

We need to see this successful scheme enhanced because it reduces the burden of cost in the vital first year of a fledging business.

The Department for the Economy, working with the 11 councils, should also establish local growth partnerships to assist in delivering development. The partnerships should include key representatives from councils, chambers of commerce, Prince's Trust, Tourism NI, local further education colleges and Invest NI.

In addition, the Department for Communities should work with councils and the private sector in establishing town centre retail incubator units in vacant shops to encourage start-up retailers and provide affordable rents and marketing support for the first year.

Ballymena Business Centre has already established a Town Centre Enterprise Hub in Church Street, and the Department for Communities should be replicating this model throughout all town and city centres.

The retail sector is not just our largest employer in Northern Ireland, but our biggest sector of the economy. Retail NI will give new leadership to our retail sector and ensure that it will be at the forefront of the policy debate on the future of our local economy.

  • Download Retail NI's Creating A Northern Ireland Economic Powerhouse at www.retailni.com

The countdown is on to prestigious Business Awards ceremony on May 4

It’s just nine days until the winners of the 2017 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards, in partnership with Ulster Bank, are revealed at a gala ceremony at the Crowne Plaza, Shaws Bridge, Belfast.

Two special judges’ honours, the Lifetime Achievement Award and Overall Business of the Year sponsored by Ulster Bank, will also be presented on May 4.

A table of 10 costs £1,300 plus VAT while individual places are available at £140 plus VAT.

For further information or to book a table, contact Andrea Kennedy at JComms on mail@jcomms.co.uk or call 028 9076 0066.

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