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Reform of business rates is a 'key issue for Assembly'

By Staff Reporter

Reform of the business rates system is the "key challenge" for Stormont this year, according to a body which represents independent retailers.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said "radical reform" was required to make the rates system fair and cost-effective.

A consultation on business rates will close later this month, following a rates revaluation in April last year.

NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "With the date and the rate of corporation tax now agreed, the next big issue for the Northern Ireland Executive and local political parties is business rates reform."

He said independent retailers faced difficult circumstances during 2016, as they confront the burden of rates, the National Living Wage, the costs of auto-enrolment for employee pensions, and the "ever growing burden of red tape and regulation".

The overall effect was to "narrow margins and restrict growth potential," Mr Roberts said.

"A number of our members have indicated that expansion plans for their businesses are being put on hold as they struggle to afford to pay these crippling costs.

"Unless the issue of high costs is addressed, the creation of jobs and new investment will be reduced at a time when Government needs to be doing more to support our private sector."

He also welcomed plans to introduce a new Department of the Economy, combining functions of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) and the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL).

Mr Roberts said it marked a "game changer" that would create a "one-stop shop" for economic matters.

And Mr Roberts urged businesses to engage with political parties ahead of May's Assembly elections.

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