A proposed tax on large retailers would be a blunt instrument and do more harm than good, a lobby group has claimed.
The planned tax risks retarding growth and job creation without any guarantee that small firms would benefit, the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said, adding that business improvement districts which cut town centre crime and promote better transport links should be created instead.
Lesser-sized businesses have suffered declining fortunes in competition with out-of-town shopping centres and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has put forward plans to charge a levy on the profits of companies such as Tesco and Asda to pay for greater rate relief for indigenous firms.
Consortium director Jane Bevis said: "Town centres do need reinvigoration and investment, but the proposed large retailer levy is a blunt instrument which would do more harm than good. Enabling the creation of business improvement districts instead would allow retailers to get directly involved with specific initiatives."
She said the proposed tax on large premises would harm growth, job creation and town centres without any guarantee the money raised would reach the small retailers which it is intended for.
Glynn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, backed the proposed levy.
"We should be in the business of trying to protect as many businesses as possible. Many believe they are paying too much rates. It is only right that the Executive brings forward this levy to help businesses that are struggling to pay rates," he said.
"We need to protect jobs at this time, it is not propping up unsustainable businesses, it is addressing the huge burden of rates."
He contended that large retailers enjoy unfair advantages such as free parking and said the changes were about creating a level playing field.
Mr Wilson is consulting on legislation which would mean 26 companies with 77 retail premises paying an extra £85,000 a year per premises.