I would like to take the opportunity to clarify some points in relation to the issue of 'fake shop fronts', as reported in the Belfast Telegraph.
Over recent years, retailers across Northern Ireland have experienced difficult trading conditions. In an effort to support businesses towards economic recovery, ReStore/Revitalisation aims to boost business performance by creating a more attractive environment by improving the look of shop fronts and encouraging shoppers and visitors.
It is important to put in context that, although the overall ReStore/Revitalisation scheme has cost £8.2m, only £190,000 – or 2.3% – relates to 'fake shop fronts', or what I prefer to call 'virtual shop fronts'. Unfortunately, this figure was not available at the time of publication.
The short-term measure of creating virtual shop fronts to address the blight created by void and derelict units is a relatively minor element of my department's wider tool-kit for physical improvements.
The vast majority of the £8.2m has been directed towards supporting existing traders make physical enhancements to their shop fronts.
These are businesses which are open and trading, but require a bit of refresh to their property, or signage, such as repair and refurbishments of shop facades, lighting and planting.
Feedback from the business community has been overwhelmingly positive. The department's funding has been greatly appreciated in a time of significant financial constraint.
Indeed, this approach has resulted in significant benefits for town centres, including levering private sector investment and increasing footfall and tourism.
I recognise that these schemes will not in themselves regenerate a town centre, but they support the wider work of the Executive in creating sustainable towns for the future.
ReStore/Revitalisation is making an important contribution during what is a difficult time for traders.
It is, therefore, proper for us to take action to improve the appearance of our town centres and to support local business.
Nelson McCausland MLA is Minister for Social Development