NIIRTA unveils 97-point plan to revive the north's retail sector

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness at The Plan launch yesterday with Kevin Kingston (Danske Bank chief executive) and NIIRTA's Nigel Maxwell (chair) and Glyn Roberts (chief executive). Picture: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE north's main retailers' lobby group is demanding Stormont goes even further in implementing rates measures to save the corner shop.

Concessions already introduced by the devolved administration have helped more than 520 businesses in the north, saving many from possible extinction.

And other small business relief schemes have played a part in addressing levels of vacancy and retained the heartbeat of many local communities.

But the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), in a 97-point alternative blueprint for the next five-year Stormont term, wants the nine new Executive departments to go even further on rates.

Its manifesto, known as 'The Plan', was launched at Titanic Belfast yesterday in the presence of current deputy first minister Martin McGuiness and a number of first-time Assembly candidates from the five main political parties.

NIIRTA, which speaks on behalf of more than 1,200 member firms and individual retailers, is the first business organisation to produce a plan specifically aligned to the nine new departments which will be operational after the May elections.

Its wish-list - which it claims isn't focussing on problems but on practical policy solutions - focuses heavily on rates but straddles everything from creating a retail apprentice to einstating arts funding to 13p per person per week to devolving on-street car parking to councils and creating more enterprise zones and business improvement districts.

Among the top priorities in The Plan are:

:: Expansion of the empty premises rate relief;

:: Introduction of new capital allowance rate relief scheme to support business growth;

:: Rural rate relief scheme for villages;

:: Appointment of a Junior Minister for Entrepreneurship and Skills in the Department for Economy;

:: Creation of level three retail apprenticeship;

:: UK remaining part of a reformed EU;

:: Establish north-south retail forum;

:: Entrepreneurship being made a compulsory module from aged 14-18;

:: Set up Northern Ireland "town team" to coordinate regeneration policy;

:: Organised international infrastructure conference to identify models of modernisation;

:: Creating a new strategically focused supply chain forum.

NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Robert said: “While retail and town centres are central to our report, this is a plan for the economy as a whole.

"And because it's about aligning government and policy in the right way, it isn't a plan that will take tens of millions of pounds to implement. It won't take a huge financial commitment from Stormont to push most of these recommendations through."

Mr Roberts added: "Small shops are the lifeblood of local economies. Indeed retail is the largest contributor to our private sector economy.

"But our members still feel there are still too many barriers to business in place, so we urge the incoming Executive to take these proposals on board and work to secure retail’s rightful position as a key partner for growth in a new and more efficient private sector-led Northern Ireland."

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