Ministers have recognised the pain Northern Ireland’s businesses are going through, traders’ representatives said.
Once bustling streets have been empty for weeks as the coronavirus infection has shut down the economy, Belfast Chamber chief executive Simon Hamilton added.
He said the extension of the business rates holiday until next March for some of the hardest hit by pandemic restrictions would provide a real boost.
Mr Hamilton said: “What the Executive has done with rates relief for businesses is more generous than what has happened in Great Britain and is a great example of devolution responding to local needs and working to the benefit of many businesses who have been hurt by the impact of the coronavirus on our economy.”
Targeted rates relief is something Belfast Chamber has been calling for.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the rates break would be extended to the end of next March for firms like pubs and hotels.
We have all seen the images of once bustling shopping streets in Belfast city centre now empty streetsSimon Hamilton
Mr Hamilton said: “It is a recognition by the Executive of the pain that so many businesses are experiencing at present and will do for many more months.
“We have all seen the images of once bustling shopping streets in Belfast city centre now empty streets.
“With so many of those businesses now not having to pay any rates for the rest of this year it will give them a real boost during what are immensely difficult times.”
Angela McGowan, CBI Northern Ireland director, said companies were trying to keep costs down.
She added: “The impact of Covid-19 on how we work highlights the urgent need to consider a reform of the system as a means of driving Northern Ireland’s long-term economic recovery.”
Federation of Small Businesses Northern Ireland head of external affairs, Roger Pollen, said it would have been the “height of unfairness” if companies were to continue to be charged rates while they remained mandated by government to close.
He added: “It is vital that businesses are given space and financial forbearance so they can rebuild the economy before they are faced with rates bills that are unrelated to profitability.”
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said the measure was “absolutely crucial” in helping independent retailers begin to plan for recovery and for the wider reopening of the economy.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium which represents large supermarkets among others, said the additional month respite for all ratepayers will be small consolation to larger grocery retailers who face higher costs and lower demand due to social distancing measures which themselves have cost over £5 million.
He added: “It is disappointing they did not garner a similar rates break to Great Britain, though we do appreciate the minister paying tribute to the retailers who have kept Northern Ireland fed throughout this crisis.”
Northern Ireland’s airports are also covered by the business rates holiday to March.
George Best Belfast City Airport chief executive Brian Ambrose said: “The Finance Minister’s welcome announcement comes at a time when Northern Ireland’s airports are facing unprecedented challenges.
“The Executive recognise the importance of air access in the recovery of our economy as today’s statement testifies.”