Belfast Telegraph

Uncertainty over rates and business tax a worry for Northern Ireland retailers

By Margaret Canning

Rates revaluation and the stability of Stormont are the two main challenges facing retailers in the province this year, it's been claimed.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said they hoped the sector would see "steady growth" in 2015 with retailers benefiting from economic recovery.

Chief executive Glyn Roberts said retailers had enjoyed a good Christmas.

"By all accounts this Christmas was one of the best for the retail sector for a long time given the improved economic climate and no serious dissident attacks."

But the rates revaluation of last year, which will leave many shops with higher rates bills, would be a big challenge over 2015, coupled with local government reform as the 26 councils become 11 super councils.

"Business rates is the top priority for NIIRTA in 2015," Mr Roberts said.

"We face a perfect storm of challenges such as the rates revaluation, long term future of the small business rate relief scheme and rates convergence of the 11 super councils."

He said the association had welcomed the Stormont House Agreement just before Christmas but urged politicians to continue the hard work.

"While it was encouraging to see progress with the Stormont House Agreement, there remains a huge amount of work in its implementation and the detail of the final executive budget," he said.

"We look forward to legislation to devolve corporation tax and hope that it will pass as speedily as possible through Westminster."

There was grim news for the retail sector in Belfast city centre this week after it emerged that Currys is to close its Castle Place store, where around 25 people are employed, while fashion retailer Bank, which operates in Victoria Square Shopping Centre, has gone into administration.

Mr Roberts said: "It is always disappointing when any retailer in a city centre closes their doors as it lessens the overall retailer offer and reduces footfall for surrounding local traders.

"I hope that Currys will not change their overall store format to out of town as they have a role to play in contributing to the retail mix of our town and city centres."

But there was good news from Newry, with a spokeswoman for Buttercrane Centre saying pre-Christmas trading had been "very busy" with footfall peaking on December 23.

Centre manager Peter Murray said: "While online and click and collect are channels that are rapidly growing, many retail outlets saw a frantic final week of spending, especially when there were issues with deliveries or delivery dates in time for the big day.

"The most successful retailers were those that combined excellent customer service, with promotions and multiple sales channels such as click and collect and home delivery."

Mobile phone retailers were among the busiest in the centre.

He said there were "huge numbers" out for Boxing Day, with ladies' fashion driving most of the footfall.

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