Belfast Telegraph

Small local shops need consumers' support to survive: ministers

By Claire McNeilly

Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers have joined forces to encourage people to support small high street traders.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness lent their support to the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association’s (NIIRTA) new campaign asking consumers to remember their local retailers this Christmas.

At the launch of ‘Shop Independent’ at Stormont Castle, the ministers said the message complements the Executive’s decision to extend the rates relief scheme for small businesses.

They said: “At this, the busiest time of the year, it is important not to forget the local independent retailer.

“The support of small to medium sized enterprises is a key commitment in our draft Programme for Government and by shopping local this Christmas the public are making a vital contribution to this important sector.”

The call follows a new report by Mary Portas (below) warning that town centres could disappear unless immediate action is taken to arrest their demise.

The retail expert — best known for her TV series Mary Queen of Shops — put forward 28 proposals aimed at breathing life back into the high street.

Ms Portas called for a new tax on car parks in out-of-town complexes, as well as free parking in town centres. She also suggested town centres should be run like businesses, their managements should be strengthened through new “town teams” and that they should encourage new markets.

The Portas Report also concluded that the playing field with out-of-town malls should be levelled by ensuring a strong town centre first approach in planning.

NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts called for the recommendations to be implemented in Northern Ireland.

“We told the First and Deputy First Ministers that there is a need to have a Mary Portas-style inquiry here,” he said. “Our members believe that this would help signpost the regeneration of Northern Ireland’s town centres and high streets.

“If we could encourage between 5%-10% more consumers to spend more in independent shops this year, then that would be a big help. It might not save all independent shops on the high street but it would certainly be a big help.”

Last week the Belfast Telegraph published the results of an investigation into the troubles faced by traders during the recession.

We spoke to 26 people behind 30 different businesses that could no longer afford to keep operating because of the economic climate.

Belfast Chamber of Commerce president Joe Jordan said Northern Ireland was already taking steps to save the high street, but he acknowledged there were good ideas contained in the report.

“We need to analyse the report properly, but we could definitely use come of those 28 recommendations,” Mr Jordan said. “The one thing towns and cities need to look at is the price of car parking because the price of coming in to the likes of Belfast for a day is expensive.”

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