A body representing independent traders presented its vision for future economic policy yesterday — including a call for the number of government departments to be cut from 12 to seven.
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, which has opposed a number of major out-of-town shopping centres, also called for an extra rates charge for such developments to ensure a “level playing field” for independent retailers.
While devolution had benefited the economy, chief executive Glyn Roberts said Northern Ireland’s system of government was “cumbersome” with a large number of departments having overlapping responsibilities for the economy.
“Now is the time to review and redesign the apparatus of government so that it is more nimble and more able to react quickly to the requirements which our society faces in rapidly changing times.”
Mr Roberts called on action from the Department of Finance and Personnel on out-of-town centres.
“As out-of-town supermarkets enjoy a significant competitive advantage over town centre-based retailers, the Department of Finance and Personnel should levy a substantial additional rates surcharge on those stores.
“These additional rates should be ring-fenced for funding town centre regeneration projects.”
NIIRTA, which has 1,200 members with an annual turnover of £3bn, said government should make the independent retail sector a priority.
Mr Roberts said: “We would recommend that the Enterprise Minister sets up an immediate retail policy review which could set short, medium and long term objectives for growing the sector and addressing the barriers to the growth of the sector.”
The association, in its programme for prosperity, also called for swift publication of Draft PPS Five on out-of-town shopping centres.
The policy document — published to coincide wih NIIRTA’s 10th birthday — was launched by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.
Mr Wilson said: “The importance of the wholesale and retail sector in Northern Ireland cannot be underestimated, as it contributes almost 13% of Northern Ireland’s output and almost 15% of all local employee jobs.
“The independent retail sector brings real variety and richness to the local shopping experience.
“That is its real value to the local economy.”
He said a provision in the recent independent review of economic policy calling for Invest NI to help more businesses, would benefit companies in independent retail.