Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland business deserves a better deal

By Johnny Andrews

Northern Ireland's Conservatives welcome the Finance Minister's wide-ranging review of business rates.

This will look critically at how the system can be improved, whether there is a better alternative, and at the effectiveness of the current rate relief schemes. Business rates reform is long overdue.

Instead of finding new ways to raise rates as has been done in Britain and the Republic, the Executive has failed the private sector, using these huge rates increases to fund its inefficiency and fail to agree a budget, resulting in fines and penalties. Meanwhile businesses pay more.

Conservatives have been calling for a cap on business rates to GB levels to force long overdue Executive efficiencies.

Northern Ireland businesses have to pay, depending upon the council area, between 51.66p to 59.5p in the pound compared with 48.2p in England, meaning some can be paying up to 20% more business rates than a comparable business in England.

The minister should forget the platitudes about instigating a workshop and a consultation.She needs to take action to revive our high street and small business sector, which is stagnating during the current budgetary stalemate and delay in implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.

The Executive needs to adopt a more innovative approach to business rates to help the private sector expand and create jobs instead of using the business sector as a cash cow to fund its inefficiency.

We need effective enterprise zones with fast-track planning for qualifying new business rates relief. The Chancellor announced money for this two years ago.We demand to see NI's share spent under Barnett consequentials otherwise it will be swallowed up by Stormont waste and penalties.

Meanwhile, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment remain stubbornly higher than the rest of the UK. NI is falling behind due to a lack of competitivenesss of which high business rates is just one element.

Our energy costs are the highest in Europe, our planning system is inefficient, employment laws are not competitive and private sector is stifled by inactivity, a faltering construction sector and red tape.

Johnny Andrews is Northern Ireland Conservatives' economy spokesman

Belfast Telegraph


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