Retail groups call for rates relief scheme to apply in Northern Ireland
Business organisations in Northern Ireland have welcomed commitments in the Queen's Speech to slash the rates burden on small enterprises but expressed concerns that the aid measures may not apply here.
In the Queen's Speech, delivered at the State Opening of Parliament yesterday, the Government pledged to change business rates, with a retail discount upped from one-third to 50%.
The rates relief will apply in and from the year, 2020/21.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid said: "We're giving high streets across the UK a boost and slashing business rate bills by 50% for local retailers, including pubs, restaurants, cafes and hairdressers.
"It's vital that we put the heart back into the places we call home."
As things stand, the boost will only be available to business in Great Britain.
No equivalent rate relief is available to businesses here.
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Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts called for equality of treatment for Northern Ireland's retailers.
"It is to be welcomed that the Government has announced that it is increasing the business rates discount from one-third to 50% for independent retailers in England," he said.
"This should be immediately extended to Northern Ireland.
"Why should independent retailers in England get a 50% rates discount and their Northern Ireland counterparts receive nothing?
"Small businesses in Northern Ireland are paying the highest business rates in the UK.
"If we are to move our economy forward, then this unacceptable and unfair position will have to change."
Belfast Chamber of Commerce echoed Mr Roberts' call.
Chamber chief Simon Hamilton said last night: "The announcement in the Queen's Speech that certain small businesses in England will receive a 50% discount on their rates bills is a recognition by the Government of the many pressures facing businesses, especially those in cities like Belfast."
Mr Hamilton, a former DUP Stormont economy minister, also urged the early restoration of the Stormont Assembly and Executive so that equal levels of rates relief could be put in place for Northern Ireland.
"This is just the latest initiative by the Government aimed at alleviating the rates burden faced by businesses, but because of the ongoing absence of an administration at Stormont, similar such interventions cannot be implemented here," he said.
"This is just one more additional reason why we all need to see the Executive back up and running as soon as possible, taking the sorts of decisions that our business community need so that they can continue to grow, invest and create jobs."
In related news, local travel bodies have called for the devolution of powers to set air passenger duty to Northern Ireland, so that the tax can be abandoned.
Joanne Stuart, chief executive of the NI Tourism Alliance, said: "It's to be welcomed that the air passenger duty campaign has been recognised in the Queen's Speech.
"The fact that we are an island off an island means that 73% of our visitors come by air."
She said people can access Northern Ireland via airports in the Republic instead, where no APD would be charged.
"That represents lost expenditure and lost VAT to the Northern Ireland economy," she added.