Westminster rates hike 'will cripple' Northern Ireland retailers
The head of a body representing Northern Ireland's retailers has said there are "grave concerns" that a proposed hike in business rates could "cripple" the trade if the government in London passes a budget without an Executive.
Retail NI's Glyn Roberts was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph after Carpetright issued its second profit warning of the year.
The move comes in the wake of the collapse of two major retailers - Toys R Us and Maplin - earlier this week, which has put some 200 jobs in Northern Ireland at risk.
Following the breakdown of talks at Stormont last month, Secretary of State Karen Bradley has said she will make a decision regarding setting a budget for Northern Ireland "soon".
In December, a Department of Finance briefing paper outlined three possible scenarios to raise revenues in order to ensure health and education budgets are protected in the absence of an Executive. One option laid out in the paper was a 10% hike in business rates.
Mr Roberts said that if this option was selected many small retailers in Northern Ireland would be "crippled" and would have to shut their doors.
"We are looking ahead to what will happen if Westminster sets a budget, which is looking all but certain," he said.
"One proposal that was put forward before Christmas was a 10% hike in business rates and, if that happens, it would be absolutely disastrous for retail here.
"I have no doubt many of our members would have to shut their doors. That would just cripple many smaller retailers.
"Many businesses are struggling as it is and that's the number one concern for us. We are doing everything we can to ensure a rates hike doesn't happen.
"This week also shows you how unpredictable retail can be, because the disruptive weather will have an impact.
"Many of our members are working with skeleton staff and it looks like its going to be a difficult few days ahead."
Adrian Farrell, president of the Portadown Chamber of Commerce, said an increase in rates would put many retailers in an "extremely difficult position".
"Rates are already too high as it is, just look at what happened to Toys R Us and Maplin and how difficult the current climate is for retailers," he said.
"If such a rates increase was introduced, it would make things extremely difficult for our members. To be frank, it would be completely unacceptable."