Business rates reform 'must be radical'

Rates reform for Northern Ireland must be radical, according to NIIRTA
Glyn Roberts

CENTRAL to the new Executive Programme for Government is the need to boost our productivity as a region and to be more ambitious for growing the economy. But rather than accepting a growth rate of one or two per cent, could we achieve 10 per cent growth over the next five years?

The 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate is no silver bullet and without real investment in skills and infrastructure its real potential will be lost. In light of Brexit and the rapidly changing world economy we need to see a ‘reboot' of economic policy in the new PFG toward a stronger focus on skills, infrastructure and radical reform of business rates.

In the short term we need to see the Executive bring forward a stimulus package, which boosts both business and the local economy. Business and trade organisations need to be part of the PFG discussions and not just consultees, so that we have a genuine partnership to ensure real delivery and a PFG which has a 10 per cent economic growth target as its number one priority.

With a competitive tax regime, modernised infrastructure and investment in skills, there is no reason why Northern Ireland could not be the best place in the UK and Ireland to locate or start a business. All we need is the ambition.

Hospitality Ulster and NIIRTA have recently launched a radical alternative to the current system of Small Business Rate Relief, which would be targeted to the independent retail and hospitality sectors. As both sectors make a huge contribution to our local economy, town centres and tourism, we believe it is right for the Executive to make them a priority for rate relief.

While we support the devolution of corporation tax, radically reforming business rates is a much higher priority for our members. The Executive needs to show that it gives as much priority to supporting our sectors as it does to attracting foreign direct investment.

NIIRTA members struggle to deal to with the challenges they face including the impact of the recent rates revaluation, the national living wage, auto enrolment pensions and increasing business costs more widely. They simply cannot cope with the burden of spiralling costs particularly those imposed on them by government.

Our members consistently tell us that their rates' bills are a significant financial burden on their businesses, restricting growth and on occasions forcing them to close. The scheme we presented to the Finance Minister is fully costed and involves no new expenditure to the Executive budget. It is value for the taxpayer, ensuring that the businesses that need help with their rates bill the most will receive it.

Directly assisting our independent retail and hospitality sectors is in line with existing rate relief for manufacturing and agriculture. Not only will our rate relief scheme be beneficial for many existing independent retail and hospitality businesses, but potentially assist new start businesses in our sectors with a substantial rate reduction helping reduce their start-up costs.

:: Glyn Roberts is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA)

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