Northern Ireland minister Wilson slams 'pathetic, bullying' Tesco
An extraordinary war of words between the finance minister and one of Northern Ireland's largest employers has escalated after Sammy Wilson blasted Tesco's response to a proposed large retailer tax as "pathetic", "bluffing" and "bullying".
Mr Wilson's comments during Assembly question time at Stormont yesterday follow an exclusive report by the Belfast Telegraph in which Tesco's corporate affairs director David North warned that the firm could cut its planned creation of 1,500 jobs and £100m investment here over the next three years if the proposed tax comes in to force.
Asked about Mr North's comments by DUP Newry and Armagh MLA William Irwin on Tuesday, Mr Wilson aimed an astonishing broadside at Tesco.
"Tesco's response to this has been - I choose my words quite deliberately - absolutely pathetic," he said.
"Here is a major company that is used to bullying its way around.
"However, it is not going to use bully-boy tactics on something the Assembly has looked at, that has been proposed in the Budget and is a sensible way forward.
"Anyone who tells me that a £100m investment project, for which Tesco will look for a return over the next 20 to 25 years, will be derailed by a temporary tax ... either has not done their sums very well or must think that we are all a bunch of idiots.
"That is equivalent to a 0.042% return over the 20-year period.
"Now, if Tesco's investment in Northern Ireland is that perilous and precarious, I do not think that it is a wise investment decision and it should, probably, never have been made in the first place. For that reason, I believe that it is bluffing and bullying.
"It will not get away with that."
Meanwhile another big employer here, Asda, has come out against the proposals, which aim to raise revenues for small businesses by taxing those with larger floorspace and income.
A spokesman for Asda added that if the tax, currently out for consultation, is implemented, then big banks and utility companies should also be made to contribute.
"The large retailers levy will make Northern Ireland a less attractive destination for investors such as Asda," he said.
"Our income tracker tells us that people in Northern Ireland have less disposable income than in any other part of the UK.
"We work hard to continue to lower prices and ease the pressure of growing costs for our customers - this is the wrong tax at the wrong time."
Iain Joannides, finance and operations manager at Ikea Belfast, said that Ikea's Glasgow store is exactly the same size as its Belfast outlet and rates are currently 9% less than in Northern Ireland.
Its Gateshead and Milton Keynes stores pay 17.5% and 10% less in rates respectively.
"We believe an additional rate increase will prevent businesses currently based here from developing and will also prevent new businesses opening up in Northern Ireland," he said.