Northern Ireland businesses hindered by 'unfair' rates relief scheme
Small businesses in Northern Ireland are operating at a massive disadvantage to their counterparts in Britain, according to new research.
A report produced by two Larne businessmen has claimed that up to £130m has flowed into the Northern Ireland block grant under the Barnett formula in the past three years on the back of additional funding for small businesses across the water.
But the research from Tom and Paul McMullan found that just £9m appears to have been allocated here for supporting small businesses.
Tom McMullan is a former senior civil servant turned consultant, while Paul McMullan runs the East Antrim Electrical retail business in the centre of Larne. They have called for a Northern Ireland Select Committee to launch an inquiry into the impact of the non-domestic rates burden on the small business sector here.
Last week the Department of Finance (DoF) announced a fresh review of business rates in Northern Ireland. It followed sustained lobbying from within the retail and hospitality sectors.
Tom McMullan believes the review should be overseen by an independent board.
A former director of the C2K IT programme for schools, he has worked in consultancy roles for major international firms. He also owns commercial property in the east Antrim town. He said the research is self-funded.
Mr McMullan said the report has documented that Northern Ireland is by far the most expensive region in the UK for business rates.
"We have set out how poorly the rates relief scheme available to small businesses in Northern Ireland compares with those available elsewhere in the UK. We have identified how a small business operating out of premises with a similar NAV (net annual value) can expect to pay up to three times more if they operate, for example, in Larne as compared to operating in London," he said.
"We have calculated how some 130 businesses operating in a typical Northern Ireland high street such as Larne Main Street will, over a three-year period, expect to pay £1.25m more in rates than would be the case if they were in Scotland."
Announcing the rates review, DoF permanent secretary Sue Gray said: "In an environment where we are working without ministers, there are limitations to what we can do by way of policy change. But we need to be ready with updated advice for incoming ministers for their return to office. This fundamental review is therefore a critical part of this process."