Retailers tell Executive 'get back to work' as shop spending falls by 6%
A retail body has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to get back to work and help the sector, after figures showed it suffered a 4% slump in September - double August's rate of decline.
Visits to high streets and retail parks declined most sharply at 6.1% - the worst fall anywhere in the UK, according to the report from the NI Retail Consortium and research body Springboard.
However, shopping centres in Northern Ireland managed to buck the trend and grow their footfall by 0.9%.
But the overall decline of 4.3% in footfall at all kinds of retail destination was far above the three month average decline of 2.9%.
NI Retail Consortium director Aodhan Connolly said shop owners needed help with problems such as high rates.
He said: "September's footfall figures have a disappointing sense of unwelcome deja vu. For the fourth consecutive month, not only have we seen a decline in footfall, but yet again we are bottom of the league table across the UK.
"The only light in this gloom is that shopping centres have seen their first growth since May, albeit slight."
He said shoppers in Northern Ireland were becoming increasingly reluctant to loosen the purse strings - or even enter the shops in the first instance.
But a lack of consumer spending on retail was also making it harder for shop owners to invest in their product.
Mr Connolly said: "The simple fact is that it is becoming harder and harder to get the Northern Ireland consumer to spend not only their hard earned money, but their time in retail destinations.
"There's an urgent need to stall the growing number of retail locations that are falling further behind the rest of the UK, by attracting shoppers to retail destinations with the right mix of products, experience and convenience.
"But this is where the conundrum lies for retailers: the growing cost of doing business in Northern Ireland leaves little to no wiggle room for investment in their store proposition."
He called on the Executive to get back up and running to deal wherever possible with the problems facing the retail sector.
"For example, we need bold decisions taken on the future of the outdated, costly and inequitable business rates system, as it simply isn't tenable for retailers to form an eighth of the economy yet be forced to stump up almost a quarter of business rates.
"We need certainty on a number of business-facing policies in order to allow our industry to invest and provide great value to shoppers. Quite simply we need our Executive back to work."