Warning of jobs losses and increased prices for punters at Northern Ireland's bars over rates hike plan
Jobs will be lost and prices will go up if rates bills for local bars are increased, Northern Ireland's leading pub group has warned.
James Sinton, group finance director for Beannchor, spoke out after the Department of Finance (DoF) re-examined the rateable values of 74,000 business premises to reflect changes in the cost of property.
The new figures will be used to calculate rates bills this year, although business owners can appeal the results.
The Reval 2020 process uncovered rising values for licensed premises across the region.
Popular Belfast city centre bar the Sunflower, for example, saw its rateable value jump by 563%, from £7,500 to £50,000.
Others including Henry's (from £37,000 to £155,000), The Dirty Onion (£145,000 to £320,000) and Bittles Bar (£18,000 to £30,000) were also hit with major increases.
Mr Sinton, whose company owns establishments including The Dirty Onion and The National, said the increases would "be used to ultimately counteract reductions seen for multinational retailers elsewhere".
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"This is grave news for our industry and an attack on local hospitality businesses in Belfast city centre, most notably the Cathedral Quarter," he added.
"The implementation of these increases can only lead to two things: redundancies and price hikes. These levels simply cannot be absorbed by businesses amid what are already challenging trading conditions.
"We believe that this a very short-sighted approach. Hospitality is a key catalyst for inward investment in our country. We should be making every effort to ensure these businesses are sustainable and continue to attract additional tourism.
"We, like many others, have invested heavily in our businesses in Belfast over the last decade.
"This is not without risk and it is hugely disappointing that we appear to be penalised for this investment.
"Businesses in Belfast cannot stay profitable with rates increases of this scale."
John Bittle, owner of Bittles Bar, said the new rates valuations would "put a lot of businesses under pressure".
He added: "It's a fairly big increase. You work hard at your business and the amount that you get out of it is getting less and less."
The DoF said that the increased values would not translate into additional rates revenue and insisted that the process was fiscally neutral.
However, the values are just one element of the process which is used to calculate rates.
Figures set by district councils and regional government are also used.
Despite the huge increase in the rateable value for the Sunflower, owner Pedro Donald said it was a tax he was happy to pay.
"I'm a great believer in paying taxes. Everyone has to pay taxes to make the city a better place," Mr Donald added.