Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland retailers set MLAs a firm challenge

By Claire McNeilly

The Executive has been challenged to help create 3,000 new businesses across the province by 2020 by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA).

It has also called for the appointment of a Small Business Commissioner for Belfast to help new starts and existing traders, based on a model currently employed in the USA.

These were among more than 80 recommendations outlined in a report, entitled Local First, at the launch of NIIRTA's manifesto at Belfast's Mac yesterday.

And the main message from its boss Glyn Roberts was that businesses need to understand what the government shake-up means for the future.

"By and large the local business community needs to wake up to the huge challenges and opportunities that the new councils will offer," said Mr Roberts.

"With their enhanced powers these councils will be vital players in shaping the future of our economy. It is therefore essential that the private sector engages early on and can hit the ground running."

The most radical proposals in the manifesto include:

  • 3,000 new independent retailers by 2020: With over 3,000 independent retailers closing during the recession, councils should set a target of creating 3,000 new independent retailers by 2020.
  • A Belfast Small Business Commissioner: Given Belfast's role and size as a key regional economic driver, NIIRTA recommends the establishment of a Small Business Commissioner based on the New York City, USA, model. This would be a one-stop shop to assist new starts and promote business and growth.
  • Town Centre Rates: If a town centre shop vacancy rate reaches 40%, councils should have the power to request an emergency rate relief scheme.
  • Establish Local Growth Partnerships: These should include key representatives from council, Chambers of Commerce, local colleges, Invest NI etc.
  • Free car parking: Free first one hour on-street car parking in the 30 towns should continue, with a review into offering the same schemes in our city centres.
  • Wi-Fi: Councils should set a target by 2020 for every town centre to have free Wi-Fi.

Among the current government initiatives to spruce up ailing town centres is dressing up derelict businesses to make them look thriving like the shop fronts on the Newtownards Road in Belfast.

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