Belfast Telegraph

Finance Minister discusses town centre retail at workshop with Association of Town and City Management

Stormont Executive press release - Department of Finance and Personnel

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton today attended a workshop being held by the Association of Town and City Management (ATCM) in Bangor to look at issues facing town centres including business rates.

At a national level, the ATCM works with those interested in promoting the vitality and viability of town and city centres, in the UK and further afield. ATCM in conjunction with Experian, a global information services group with operations in 44 countries (and one of the two leading credit reference agencies), have completed an assessment of town centres in the South East of England and a comparison with the UK regions.

As the next step in their process a number of regional workshops are now being held around the UK including one in Bangor.

Outlining the challenges being faced by town centres Simon Hamilton said: “We are all aware that retail business has changed substantially over the last few years with the rise of both internet and out of town retail.

“The Executive have acknowledged that our town centres and in particular small businesses have struggled and suffered during this economic downturn. Over the past year the Executive have assist the local business community by making a number of changes to the rating system to help support town centres including an expansion of the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme and a new empty shops rates concession both of which have been extended until March 2015.”

The Minister noted that the issues faced by retail could not be addressed simply through rates concessions, stating: “While I believe that the range of measures we have in place are the right mix of policies that put business needs first, there are limits to the concessions we can make while still raising enough money to help pay for essential public services and investment in infrastructure.

“The Executive has given a commitment to rebalance and rebuild our economy by shaping our policies to help businesses during these difficult times. I have responsibility for rating policy and am determined to continue to do what I can to help create a business environment that encourages local enterprise.”

The Minister also took the opportunity to highlight the work of the Department for Social Development including that Department’s High Street Task force, and policies being taken forward by the Department including new legislation relating to Business Improvement Districts and Pavement Cafes.

Concluding the Minister also spoke of the challenges faced by his Department in relation to the work on non-domestic revaluation saying: “The 2015 non-domestic revaluation exercise is about restoring fairness in how the business rates burden is shared and distributed. Everyone cannot be a winner.

“As with every revaluation exercise, there will be winners and losers and many will not find their bills changing much. The last time a general revaluation took place almost three quarters of business ratepayers’ rates bill went up or down by less than 20%”. We have been encouraging business owners to complete the Form of Return to give us an accurate picture so that we can have the most fair system we possibly can.”

Notes to editors:

1. The Empty Premises Relief scheme was introduced in April 2012 to help reduce the number of empty commercial units. The scheme will run until 31 March 2015.

2. The Small Business Rate Relief Scheme is a Northern Ireland Government initiative that will provide some small business owners with rate relief. Further information on the scheme can be accessed via the NI Business Info website:

3. More information on revaluation can be found at on the Reval 2015 website: This website will be the key source of information for ratepayers until the exercise completes in 2015.

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