Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Good business for all to help traders

The latest report on the retail sector in Northern Ireland provides very grim reading. According to research by the British Retail Consortium, almost one in five shops in the province are empty. This is the highest vacancy rate in the United Kingdom, and it confirms earlier downward trends.

The number of shoppers has decreased, with a fall of 4.7% in recent months, compared to the same period last year. There was a much smaller drop of 2% in the UK. The decrease among shoppers here accelerated badly last month, with a 15.1% drop in April compared to 4.2% across the UK. Clearly the retail sector here is in a deep crisis. People have less money to spend, fewer are shopping, and more shops are closing.

The retailers are alarmed and rightly so. They are calling for decisive measures, but the question remains about the most appropriate action that can be taken by the Stormont Executive.

Some of the retailers' suggestions could bear fruit, including a new look at planning policy, parking charges and local rates which would encourage shoppers to come out more, and also relieve the burden of overheads for hard-pressed retailers.

There also may be some merit in establishing a number of Business Improvement Districts, but the situation is now so bad that action needs to be taken quickly.

The traders themselves face the challenge of being even more innovative, and of producing new initiatives that will help them to help themselves.

However they cannot go it alone. The traders and Stormont politicians need to establish a more effective partnership which will prevent the retail sector from sliding into an even greater depression. Members of the public with less disposable income are less inclined to go shopping, and when they do so they are looking to strike a hard bargain.

However, it is in everyone's interest to keep open as many retail outlets as possible, and to provide people with a wide variety of choice.

The continued decline of the retail sector is bad business for everyone.

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