THE new head of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) has urged the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to freeze business rates for the coming year.
Legislation to allow the UK Government to pass a budget in absence of an Executive was fast-tracked through Westminster on Monday
Mr Heaton-Harris, who is in the United States on a trade visit, was not present for the Northern Ireland Budget Bill debate.
But in November, he issued a statement where he raised the prospect of introducing water charges and/or raising rates to generate additional revenue.
Neil Johnston said businesses in the north already pay the highest rates in the UK.
His trade body, which represents the majority of retail trade in the north in terms of turnover, has also written to the leaders of the five main political parties asking them to back a business rates freeze in the north.
"What do the Conservatives in London, Labour in Wales and the SNP in Scotland have in common? They all agree this is not the time to raise business rates. They have all decided to freeze business rates”, he said.
“Given the current weak economic situation the last thing businesses, and consumers, need to see is business rates rising.
“It is essential that they are at the very least frozen for 2023/24. We have written to Chris Heaton-Harris, the Secretary of State appealing to him not to go down this road.”
Mr Johnston said the extra burden placed on retailers would likely be passed onto consumers.
“It is essential that we all work collaboratively to help everyone through this difficult period,” he said.
“Retailers are doing everything they can - not just to remain competitive in a difficult trading environment but to do what they can to protect consumers. We know that people are struggling.”
Despite the power vacuum at Stormont, the retail director called on local party leaders to make their positions clear.
“The freeze in England, Scotland and Wales was announced towards the end of last year. We need a decision soon and I hope they will join our call to keep costs down.”