Belfast Telegraph

Embattled retailers fear effects of plastic bag tax

By Clare Weir

The introduction of a levy on plastic bags could be another nail in the coffin of the beleaguered retail sector, a leading business organisation has warned.

CBI Northern Ireland said that the proposals from the Department of the Environment are "unnecessary, badly timed, and will create a significant administrative burden on all retailers" and has said that a voluntary approach is the way forward.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association, the The Association of Convenience Stores and the British Hospitality Association have also come out strongly against the proposals, which have been backed by environmental groups.

Such a levy already exists in the Republic and in Wales.

CBI Northern Ireland director, Nigel Smyth, said that the proposal for the bag tax could not have come at a worse time.

Retailers are already struggling with reduced footfall on the streets, less consumer spend and the possibility of another proposed tax on larger premises.

Mr Smyth said that while it is "absolutely right" to seek to reduce the number of single use carrier bags, the administrative burden on the retail sector must be minimised.

"The proposals will apply to both plastic and paper bags which is not fully recognised by all the 6,400 retail businesses in Northern Ireland," he said. "Clear government guidance will be essential and this must be communicated effectively to retailers."

Stephen Cammon, managing director of Northern Ireland department store Menarys, added: "The sustainability of the local retail sector is under real threat. The levy should not be introduced until there is at least some green shoots of recovery across the retail sector."

The CBI has suggested counter measures, including that the initial charge must not exceed 5p per bag, and that it should not be introduced before April 2013.

The organisation has also called for an effective communication campaign to explain the levy to consumers.