Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

MLAs say Sammy Wilson has gone over top

Finance minister Sammy Wilson

Political opponents have accused Sammy Wilson of headline grabbing following his broadside against Tesco.

However, there was broad political support for the Finance Minister's defence of small shopkeepers and town centres and his insistence the Assembly will not be dictated to.

Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy, chair of the Assembly committee which monitors the Finance Minister, said: "We are in support of this measure as a mechanism by which larger companies pay a little bit more in order to help protect and support smaller indigenous businesses," the former Executive Minister added.

Ulster Unionist deputy leader John McAllister said the minister may have gone "over the top" in the language he used but was broadly supportive of his criticism. "He was maybe a little over the top but the position he was arguing in favour of was probably the right one.

"I wouldn't have thought the amounts being asked for by big operations like Tesco would harm them unduly," the South Down MLA argued.

"Considering the might of Tesco, the Assembly certainly cannot let itself be dictated to by outside interests. But perhaps he was a little bit heavy on one of the province's largest employers."

But his party colleague Roy Beggs said: "This was the man who not long ago claimed credit in party political literature for bringing one of the major multinational supermarkets to Larne - to an out-of-town centre location with an obvious negative effect on the small and medium-sized independent retailers in Larne."

Dominic Bradley, the SDLP's finance spokesman, said he believed Mr Wilson could have been more tactful but agreed that the Assembly should not be vulnerable to lobbying "from any direction".

"We need to support the smaller retailers who are under high pressure and help to prevent our town centres turning into ghost towns."

Alliance finance spokeswoman Judith Cochrane said she did not think Mr Wilson's remarks were "particularly helpful as this should not be about getting people's backs up but about finding a solution that assists our small businesses".

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