Belfast Telegraph

Wilson to review the 'Tesco Tax' weeks after it started

By Clare Weir

The finance minister is launching a review of the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme, better known as the Tesco Tax, just three months after it went into operation.

Sammy Wilson said that since April, around 8,200 small businesses, comprising 10% of business premises, have benefitted from a 20% discount on their rates, but he wanted to see if the scheme needed tweaking.

"Given the expansion of the scheme in April, and the exclusion of those occupying multiple properties from the scheme, I feel that there is merit at this early stage in analysing which businesses are benefiting from this relief," he said.

Some 24,000 businesses are now receiving help with their rates, with an average annual award of around £735, paid for by just over 70 large retailers based in Northern Ireland with a rateable value of £500,000 or more.

Back in November 2011, when a consultation exercise on the levy closed, most respondents were supportive of the scheme, which is expected to run until 2015.

Of the 70 responses, slightly over half of those opposed to the move stated that the retail levy would affect store expansion and employment.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium claimed that the levy would equate to the loss of around 400 retail jobs a year, while Tesco contended that the figure would be around 1,500 over three years.

Just 22 responses were opposed to the large retail levy - half of which were large retailers - consisting of 13 firms, one district council and eight organisations.

Those against included Asda, B-amp;Q, Next and Tesco, all of whom forecast job losses and a drop in inward investment.

The review will assess how well the scheme is operating and how much it is costing.

Mr Wilson said it would be worth investigating if further refinements could be made.

"It is too early at this point in the scheme's life to consider a full evaluation as it is not yet possible to gauge its wider economic impact or its effectiveness," he said.

The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said that the organisation had already been receiving positive feedback about the scheme.

NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts said that the move had given much needed relief to many traders. "Some of our members have saved as much as a £1000 in their April rate bill, much of which has been re-invested in to their business," he said.


The number of small businesses receiving a 20% rate discount