Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Don't under-rate opponents, Sammy

Sammy Wilson has proved himself to be one of the most able ministers in the power-sharing Executive. He is plain speaking, a trait which makes him respected in the wider community, and is not afraid to voice unpopular opinions.

He doesn't always see eye-to-eye with this newspaper, but we nevertheless admire his abilities and effectiveness as a politician. His business rate relief measures, aimed at helping small businesses by imposing an additional levy on big companies, is well targeted and the sort of innovative action that this newspaper has been urging politicians to take to boost the economy.

But Mr Wilson would be well advised not to make enemies of the large firms, particularly supermarkets, over the issue. He may be right when he accuses Tesco of bluffing when it warns that it could cut its proposed £100m investment plans here over the next three years, but he better be sure before getting any more embroiled in an argument with the company.

While Mr Wilson's rate relief measure is a commendable effort to help small businesses which are struggling most in the current recession, the big companies also have a valid viewpoint. They can argue that they already pay huge amounts in rates and that it is unfair to penalise them further just to hand the money over to what are essentially competitors.

And they may point out that the Assembly and Executive is hardly run along the lines of a modern, lean business. Last year £20m was written off in unpaid rates and currently £150m is owed. We have too many MLAs, and the reform of local government has yet to take place in spite of the obvious savings which could be pumped back into the economy. Add in the cost of segregated education, housing and leisure and it is obvious that more money is being wasted by government than would ever be raised by an increased rates levy. Mr Wilson doesn't necessarily occupy the moral high ground on this issue.

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