Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Plastic bag tax plan for Northern Ireland under fire from retailers

A plastic bag tax could help drive customers away from the high streets in Northern Ireland, a business group said today.

Retailers are already struggling from the recession and fresh regulation could produce "further administrative burdens", the British Hospitality Association (BHA) added.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood is consulting on the levy which he hopes could produce environmental and financial benefits. Independent retailers fear it will be bad for business.

Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive at the BHA, said: "Whilst we support the environmental need to reduce packaging, including reducing the number of carrier bags in circulation, this is another financial and administrative burden at the worst possible time for the local economy.

"We believe that the executive should not be introducing another tax while consumers' disposable incomes continue to fall against the backdrop of rising inflation and the difficult economic environment.

"In this climate a carrier bag tax could contribute to driving consumers away from our already struggling high streets, potentially limiting growth, hurting local retailers, as well as providing further administrative burdens on small businesses."

A charge for plastic bags was first introduced in the Irish Republic in 2002, at 22 cents per bag.

The Northern Ireland consultation will run until 12 October and people can make suggestions as to how much they feel the bags should cost. The charge is due to be introduced on 1 April 2013.

In Wales, a single-use carrier bag will cost five pence from October. England and Scotland have no plans to introduce a charge for bags.

Over 200 million plastic bags are used in Northern Ireland every year.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, said the aims of the tax are flawed.

"We believe the executive should build upon the voluntary approach of reducing bag usage, which has already been established, further developing the links between government, businesses and stakeholder groups in addressing this issue."

The Northern Ireland Environment Link group of NGOs has supported a tax in the past.

"By providing all consumers with a tangible disincentive to take and waste plastic bags, it will encourage them to recognise both the issues around their disposal and production and how these relate to the need to address climate change, waste management and promote more sustainable lifestyles.

"We are particularly supportive of the proposal that the funds raised from the sale of plastic bags will be used to provide an environmental fund. We would encourage that this fund be used to support the delivery of direct environmental improvements through supporting the voluntary and community sector.

"Not only will this provide funds for much-needed projects which are currently finding difficulty with funding but it will also serve to counter any claims that the levy is purely a money-making exercise by the Government, a claim which has often been used in the past to undermine the green credentials of levy schemes.

"It will also establish the principle of hypothecation of green fees for green benefits, an approach which is popular and effective."

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