£4m fund for start-ups to use derelict stores gets big welcome
Retail representatives have welcomed the First and Deputy First Minister's plan to fill derelict shops but have warned more needs to be done to reinvigorate the high street.
The move, part of a £26m education, family support and job creation project, will see £4m spent on creating 10 Social Enterprise Incubation Hubs which will encourage business start-ups to use empty shops. The scheme's ultimate aim is to reduce unemployment in deprived areas.
"These signature projects are very welcome and in particular the £4m to establish Enterprise Incubation Hubs in empty shops," said Glynn Roberts from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association. "This is a creative and significant step in the right direction of tackling the ever-growing problem of vacant and derelict shops."
The organisation which represents many of the major supermarkets in Northern Ireland also welcomed the announcement from Stormont but called for more action.
"Anything that brings vacant shops back into use is very much needed," Aodhan Connolly, the director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said. "But this measure won't be a panacea. We're looking forward to the introduction of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs).
"The only way to reinvigorate town centres is for the Executive to work with the private sector and have private sector investment driving it."
BIDs operate across the UK by bringing retailers together on a geographical basis, charging them a levy and using it to improve the surrounding area according to how members see fit.
They operate on a voluntary basis in Northern Ireland but a bill was presented to the Executive last month to try and introduce legislation that would require participation from all businesses in a BID region.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the Executive is certainly keen to work with business.
"This announcement is about working together in new ways across departments and in partnership with the community, businesses and wider society. The aim is to make a tangible difference, particularly for our children and young people, over the next two years," he said.
"This programme will lay the foundation for sustained social improvement and economic growth in the longer-term."