I wish to provide clarification around a misinformed 'My View' article from the Northern Ireland Conservatives' Johnny Andrews.
Mr Andrews wrongly suggests the Executive has failed the private sector. The Executive has continued to support our business community through an extremely difficult financial climate, not least through rate relief. In fact, there are many examples of the "innovative approach" to business rates which Mr Andrews calls for. Northern Ireland has led the way with pioneering schemes such as the empty shops rates concession, which has delivered a 50% discount to around 420 new business ventures during their first year.
Mr Andrews refers to "finding new ways to raise rates as has been done in Britain and the Republic". This is misleading, as both these jurisdictions raise business rates in the same way as us - through a rental-based system of property tax.
That said, Mr Andrews should not have crudely drawn a direct comparison between our rating systems and Great Britain. Not only are the tax bases very different, business properties in GB are valued against 2008 levels, whereas here they are valued against 2013 levels.
The comparison worth pointing out, however, is that since 2011/12 the non-domestic regional rate in Northern Ireland has increased by 9.3% in comparison with an increase in the uniform business rate in England of 13.9% over the same period. Those increases came in to effect while Mr Andrews' party was the lead partner in the coalition Government, while the NI Executive operated a real terms regional rate freeze.
Arlene Foster, Finance Minister