Stormont urged to scrap business rates for small firms
Retailers have urged the Executive to copy Chancellor George Osborne and scrap business rates for small traders in Northern Ireland.
In his Budget last week, the Chancellor had good news for corner shops, hairdressers and boutiques when he announced that the small business rate relief threshold was being more than doubled, meaning properties with a 'rateable value' below £15,000 will be exempt from the tax.
There are no plans yet for Stormont to introduce a similar perk here. The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) - the lobby group for independent retailers - urged politicians to follow the Treasury's lead.
Chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "With the Chancellor announcing last week that many small retailers will now be paying no rates at all and a big extension in the Small Business Rates Relief Scheme in England, the Northern Ireland Executive has some serious catching up to do with reforming our business rates.
"If a typical corner shop in Barnstaple will now pay no business rates, why can't this be the case for corner shops in Ballymena or any other local towns?"
Following a review of non-domestic rates, Stormont's Finance Minister Mervyn Storey said yesterday "there are no viable alternatives to the existing system". However, he signalled some changes to business rates. These include revaluations every three years. He also urged the new Assembly to maintain stability for businesses.
"I'd like to see the next administration continue the commitment to keep regional rate increases at no more than inflation over the next multi-year spending review period. This would provide greater certainty for businesses and ensure that government budgeting is even more forward thinking.
"I would also like to give councils the freedom to separate the business and household district rates, which will increase local accountability and control, for instance, in allowing an individual council the strategic choice of striking a more favourable non-domestic district rate."
Along with Social Development Minister Lord Morrow, Mr Storey has announced a consultation on the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme. The ministers hope it will come up with ideas to help regenerate town centres.
"We acknowledge the impact that technology and consumer habits are having on our town centres and we need innovative measures in response," said Lord Morrow. "We want to build on current initiatives, like Business Improvement Districts, and I look forward to hearing the views of the business community."