Belfast Telegraph

Business Soapbox: Jane Bevis

The arguments in support of this do not stand up to scrutiny. It has been depicted as a tax on out-of-town developments but would also hit city centre stores in some of Northern Ireland's most prestigious shopping streets

Retailing is at the heart of Northern Ireland's towns and villages, vital to economic health and has the potential to secure successful futures for our community. Our high streets need investment and reinvigoration. Larger retailers can and do contribute significantly to this, for example through Business Improvement Districts, also under consideration by the Executive. The proposed levy is a threat to investment, job creation and improved local services. And to the independent retailers it claims to assist.

The arguments made in support of this levy do not stand up to scrutiny. It's been depicted as a tax on out-of-town development, but would also hit city centre stores in some of Northern Ireland's most prestigious shopping streets. Nearly 40% of the levy could be paid by town centre stores. We agree that greater investment in our high streets is essential to create the vibrant environment in which all retailers can flourish. Successful retail destinations combine large, household name stores with a wide range of innovating independent stores catering for local needs. Retailers, large and small, need each other to succeed. It has also been claimed that the levy would somehow rebalance the business rates system. Where rates relief schemes operate elsewhere in the UK, additional funds have been recovered from all large businesses. There has been no clear explanation of why one particular part of one particular sector was singled out for this extra tax. If it goes through, other businesses will worry about facing surprise new taxes and may think again about locating to Northern Ireland. This move directly undermines the business community's welcome call to reduce corporation tax, aimed at attracting inward investment. It could deter millions of pounds of investment and the creation of thousands of jobs. Retailers operating in Northern Ireland are committed to the communities they serve. They employ local people, help them develop skills and already pay large sums in tax to support local regeneration efforts. The contribution the retail sector makes to Northern Ireland's economy is substantial and will grow, providing this anti-retail levy is rejected.

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