Business measures welcome - but calls for longer rates holiday

CBI regional director Angela McGowan
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BUSINESS has generally welcomed the support measures outlined in Conor Murphy's regional budget, drafted in the context of the biggest challenge to finances in Stormont's history and which provides a degree of fiscal clarity for the year ahead.

Besides the front-loaded cash for the covid battle, he made significant moves on reducing or freezing business and domestic rates to ensure no additional burden on households.

But while cutting Stormont's portion of business rates will save businesses £56 million, most business groups insisted the immediate three-months rates holiday for all non-domestic ratepayers needs to be extended to six or even 12 months.

"We absolutely need to receive more rates ,support akin to that in England, of a year's rates break if our high streets are to weather this storm," NI Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said:

"There are many sectors in the retail industry that are suffering because they have had to close. This is compounded by the fact that many fall between the cracks and can't avail of the financial assistance coming."

CBI regional director Angela McGowan said: “So many companies will breathe a sigh of relief after this significant business rates cut.

“But a non-domestic rate that is more aligned with other parts of the UK will help Northern Ireland firms compete in the UK market once we come through the Covid-19 crisis.”

She added: “The news of nearly £800m additional Covid-19 funding is especially welcome, but firms are keen to see details published quickly on how all these funds will be spent on the ground.”

PwC NI’s tax director Craig Harrison said there is scope for more to be done, but at a time of unprecedented challenge, the measures from Mr Murphy are helpful.

“Many businesses are looking at short-term measures to manage costs and take advantage of various government measures like the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS), Time to Pay and Business Interruption Loans.

“But we also expect some businesses will pivot during this time, as they look to the medium and long-term opportunities to change their position in the market, perhaps via combinations with other businesses."

He added: “As the detail is worked out for a more thorough document in May, it will be important to see additional measures which can support businesses in areas like increasing infrastructure spend and incentives for innovation and skills development.”

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