Reviewing business rates can be good for NI
In the coming weeks, my department will be conducting a wide-ranging review of business rates. This will look critically at how the system can be improved, whether there is a better alternative and at the effectiveness of the current rate-relief schemes.
The direction of the review was established during a four-day workshop in June, structured as an innovation lab and attended by business and voluntary sector organisations, local government, academia and professional bodies.
I am considering the findings and will consult with ministerial colleagues before launching a formal non-domestic rate review consultation process.
The aim of the review is to deliver a fair system that will be simple, predictable, hard to evade and easy to collect. The rating system is needed to help fund public services such as health, education and infrastructure, but it also allows local flexibility at a time of pressure on public finances.
Around 25,000 non-domestic properties benefit from at least a 20% discount via the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme, a saving to business of £18m in 2015/16.
Industrial de-rating also continues for 2015/16 and is unique to Northern Ireland, delivering nearly £60m of savings to 4,300 manufacturing firms.
Almost 420 new ventures have benefited from the Empty Shops Rates Concession, which offers a 50% rate discount in their first year of trading.
A £30m three-year district rates convergence subsidy was introduced to mitigate steep increases in rate bills as a result of the creation of 11 new councils.
The non-domestic rates revaluation was also completed this year, and, while painful for some due to the length of time from the last revaluation, it corrected the imbalances in the distribution of the rates burden.
The regional rate for business was also reduced slightly to fulfil the Executive's commitment to make the revaluation truly revenue neutral.
The rate system is a complex property tax that is not easily understood by many, but one that is needed to help pay for our public services. I want to ensure, through this review, that we have a fair and straightforward system that delivers for Northern Ireland.
Arlene Foster MLA is Finance Minister in the Executive