Belfast Telegraph

Changes at the top but Rates Relief Scheme is still on the agenda

By John Friel

After weeks of speculation and rumour the DUP has now announced their much anticipated Ministerial reshuffle.

And, while some of the new appointments may have raised an eyebrow in certain circles and debate continues over issues like ‘double jobbing’, the Federation of Small Businesses is anxious to ensure the sterling work of outgoing Finance Minister, Nigel Dodds, is continued by his successor Sammy Wilson.

Of the many initiatives put in place by Mr Dodds, the main one the FSB is anxious to see brought to fruition, is the much needed and eagerly anticipated Rates Relief Scheme. The FSB understands Rates Relief is currently awaiting Northern Ireland Executive approval and would urge those with the power to do so to ensure this vital initiative is given the green light and Northern Ireland’s SME sector gets the support it deserves.

This must happen urgently if the legislation is to be put in place in time for the introduction of the scheme in the next economic year.

The FSB has campaigned long and hard for such a system in Northern Ireland and following plans announced in March by the Finance Minister to introduce it by April of 2010 we have continued to ensure the matter is at the fore of the thoughts for all concerned.

At present Northern Ireland is currently the only region of the UK without a Small Business Rates Relief Scheme and these measures, which will ensure the Northern Ireland small business community is no longer placed at a competitive disadvantage to its counterparts in the UK, are long overdue.

The introduction of the scheme will send a clear message of the Executive’s recognition of the importance of the local small business sector and the role they will play in helping rejuvenate the economy.

The role of the SME sector in Northern Ireland cannot be underplayed and we would remind Mr Wilson as he takes up his new role that small businesses are the lynchpin of the Northern Ireland economy and deserve the proper conditions to flourish, grow and guide us out of the recession.

Small businesses here represent 98% of the business environment and employ just over half a million people across Northern Ireland.

Rates Relief will put money back into the hands of small businesses, which are best placed to know how to spend their money, and is a key mechanism to help small businesses survive the current challenging economic environment.

There can be no doubt that many businesses in Northern Ireland are currently under immense pressure as the recession continues to bite and many now unfortunately have to face the harsh reality of having to make some difficult decisions in the coming months and beyond.

However, the FSB has always maintained the Assembly has the power to throw the economy a lifeline in the form of Rates Relief and we are delighted to see this is now being facilitated.

With this in mind it is important that this legislation is agreed upon and approved by the Executive, Assembly and relevant Committee to ensure this system is in place and operational by April 2010.

The FSB is resolute in the belief that the small business sector is the means to see the UK out of the economic crisis and into recovery and it is of the utmost importance that our call for government, at both Stormont and Westminster, to keep small firms at the top of their agenda, is recognised.

The proposed Northern Ireland Rates Relief scheme follows the format of the scheme already being used in Wales.

The FSB believes this model is fair, consistent, and easy to understand and to implement.

John Friel, who is from Strabane, is regional chair of the Federation of Small Businesses

Belfast Telegraph