MAY'S Assembly election must be more than “simply a plebiscite on the NI Protocol” but must focus on delivering for business and communities on bread and butter issues after the toughest two years in living memory for retail.
That's the core message in a new manifesto published by the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, which represents 90,000 people across high street, out-of-town, online and grocery retailing, and contributes a quarter of all business rates returns in the north.
Its 20-page ‘Recover, Rebuild, Revitalise Retail’ paper provides core recommendations to the next cohort of MLAs and new Executive to help provide a sustainable footing for retail as it aims to recover from Covid and the challenges and cost pressures it currently faces.
The outline paper covers devolved policy-making, business taxation, regulation, skills, retail crime, and sustainability, among other key issues to the industry.
Its recommendations include a more flexible retail modern apprenticeship frameworks; a timetable to substantially lower the headline business rates multiplier to bring it more into line with the rest of the UK; a shop-workers' protection bill to give workers the same protection as in Britain; and a roadmap to build on the industry's ground-breaking Climate Action Plan.
NI Retail Consortium director Aodhán Connolly said: “Our industry wants this election to be more than simply a plebiscite on the Protocol.
“Of course, we must be cognisant that the MLAs returned after May 5 are those that will vote on whether or not to keep Articles 5-10.
“But that is not the only issue on the minds of the retail industry and the customers it serves, let alone the wider business community. The parties must set out how they are going to deliver on so many other issues.”
He added: “This election comes as the industry hits the very apex of the current retail revolution. Covid has accelerated the existing trends in retail, including driving customers towards digital, weakened demand, and put retailers under unparalleled pressure.
“Retail was already in a difficult position before 2020 but Covid has exposed and exacerbated the many challenges the industry was grappling with.
“The next Executive will have to respond to this reality. A more coherent approach to the industry led by a retail enabling strategy which protects ordinary consumers and provides a competitive tax system will provide a framework that can help retail to recover.
“It is imperative decision makers work with the industry to help retailers recover from the current challenges, rebuilding the sector’s foundation whilst revitalising opportunities for economic growth and regeneration.
“Conversely, if the opportunity is lost then there could be severe consequences for businesses and communities across Northern Ireland. We stand ready to work with the incoming Executive but the parties must work together to deliver real change that delivers tangible benefits for Northern Ireland households.”