Glyn Roberts: Crime wave has created perfect storm that is badly damaging rural businesses
After 11 years in this role, I know just how much time, commitment and money goes into being an independent retailer.
Retail NI members put their lives and souls into their businesses and pride themselves in serving the local community. So, you can imagine that there is nothing worse for any small business owner to be wakened in the middle of the night to be told that their shop has been smashed up and ATM stolen.
The criminal gangs behind these robberies are now systematically targeting Retail NI members.
These are family-owned independent retailers who are there when you need them for milk, bread and many other necessities.
We are actually facing a perfect storm of issues around provision of ATMs in rural communities. Added to the 10 robberies, our members have also lost the rural ATM rate relief scheme, which is adding between £4,000 and £8,000 on top of an already very high rate bill.
This is as result of the Assembly not meeting - another casualty of having no government.
Recently many of our members have had a 95p transaction cost unfairly imposed upon their ATMs by provider Cardtronics.
This will drive shoppers away from using their ATMs and their stores as nobody wants to pay 95p every time they withdraw money.
As if this wasn't bad enough, Retail NI members who have ATMs and haven't been attacked are now paying substantially more insurance premiums as they are seen as high-risk.
Where is all this leading?
Quite simply, rural communities will become cash-free zones with many towns and villages losing their ATMs.
Those people who don't have cars will not have local access to cash. This is wrong and it will be the vulnerable in society who will be the most badly affected.
This is why we urge everyone in the community to stand with our members as they face a very uncertain future.
If you see or hear a digger moving in the dead of night, do not hesitate - ring 999.
Building site owners also need to ensure their diggers are immobilised when not in use.
So far these robberies have cost our members in excess of £1m and they are putting businesses and jobs at risk.
Our members are now living in constant fear that their stores will be next to be attacked and no small business should ever have to operate in that environment.
They are not just attacks on independent retailers.
They are attacks on entire rural communities.
- Glyn Roberts is chief executive of Retail NI