Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness hails the role played by independent shops

By Margaret Canning

Independent shops are the "heartbeat" of Northern Ireland communities, the Deputy First Minister has said.

Martin McGuinness spoke at the launch of an Alternative Programme for Government, by the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA).

The plan contains nearly 100 recommendations, setting out policy priorities for the nine Executive departments which will be in place following this year's Assembly election.

And the Deputy First Minister said NIIRTA's recommendations would act to "nudge" the Executive in its actions.

He said he believed he and newly-appointed First Minister Arlene Foster had got off to a "good start" which complemented A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan, reached by the parties last year.

NIIRTA's plan includes appointing a junior minister for entrepreneurship and skills within the new Economy Department, and setting up a new north-south retail forum.

Mr McGuinness told independent traders at the event: "North, south, east and west, the jobs you create, and the services you provide in cities, towns and villages, make a real and significant contribution to the quality of people's lives."

He added: "The plan presented today is a clear statement of what NIIRTA seeks in terms of support from the Executive to do its job in terms of growing businesses, creating jobs and supporting the economy.

"This document will help inform and challenge our thinking for the next Programme for Government."

And NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts said the setting-up of nine new departments later this year could signal "time for a fresh start".

"Retail is the largest contributor to our private sector economy, but today our members still feel there are too many barriers to business in place.

"We are calling for the Executive to take our proposals on board and to work to secure retail's rightful position as a key partner for growth in a new, more efficient private sector-led Northern Ireland."

The plan also urges reform of business rates, new enterprise zones, more Business Improvement Districts (BIDS) and more investment in infrastructure.

Danske Bank chief executive Kevin Kingston also addressed the launch.

He said: "This pre-election phase brings with it time and space for the political and business community to have open and frank discussions about how we can work together."

Belfast Telegraph