A new name - but still giving leadership to the retail sector

Change is the only constant in retail
Glyn Roberts

TO survive and thrive in modern retail it is a constant process of change and innovation – indeed change is the only constant in retail.

So it was time for the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), after nearly 20 years, to change to Retail NI, to lead for independent retailers and to champion our retail sector.

NIIRTA made a big contribution not just for independent retailers, but the private sector as a whole - successfully lobbying for the small business rate relief scheme, town centre first retail planning policy, legislation for business improvement districts (BIDs) and the 'five hours for £1' discount scheme for on-street car parking. The organisation ensured that our town centres moved up the political and economic agenda at Stormont and local Councils.

Retail NI will seek to build upon this progress and its central policy objective will be to address the high cost of doing business in Northern Ireland that our members are experiencing.

In our Programme for Government, published today and entitled 'Creating a Northern Ireland Economic Powerhouse', we included the results of a comprehensive survey of our members. It told us that 71 per cent of our members' rates bill increased after the recent revaluation.

The perfect storm of cost issues including business rates increases, National Living Wage and auto enrolment pensions is resulting in 67 per cent of them reducing staff hours, 51 per cent reducing staff numbers and 26 per cent postponing or cancelling investment plans.

A staggering 79 per cent of members tell us that compliance with excessive regulation is the biggest challenge to their business. This is a major wake up call to political leaders in Stormont and Westminster that things have to change.

Retail NI's immediate priority is to ensure the implementation of the new rates relief scheme we jointly produced with Hospitality Ulster, which adopts a targeted approach for the independent retail and hospitality sectors

Our joint rates plan has the support of thirty business organisations representing retail, hospitality, manufacturing, food and pharmacy. In addition, Chambers of Commerce from right across Northern Ireland have also pledged their support for the scheme.

This is the biggest ever coalition of business organisation ever assembled and shows the depth of support for radical reform to business rates. Given the huge level of support from right across the business community, our joint rates plan needs to be the top priority for the next executive.

We need a new ‘belt and braces' entrepreneurship strategy to include the Executive, Invest NI, councils, colleges, banks and the private sector working together on an agreed plan.

The Department for the Economy could take forward a new Enterprise and Small Business Bill to craft the policy framework to create conditions for the next generation of entrepreneurs, particularly new independent retailers.

Retail NI will work with MLAs to establish an Assembly all party group on retail to ensure our sector's policy priorities are front and centre at Stormont. We will work with the Department for the Economy and our six FE colleges to establish a new Level 3 Retail apprenticeship to help bring forward the next generation of retail entrepreneurs.

Retail NI will give new leadership to our retail sector and be at the forefront of the policy debate on the future of our local economy. Watch this space.

:: - Glyn Roberts is chief executive of Retail NI

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