03 October 2011

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson MP MLA has responded to inaccurate claims by the NI Retail Consortium (NIRC) that much of the money from the expanded large retail levy will benefit banks, bookies and pubs.

The Minister advised: “Both the current small business rate relief scheme and the proposed expansion would help a wide range of businesses in all sectors.” 

Although around half of the £6.5million annual relief would go to retail premises the preferred scheme is not restricted to small shops as the difficulties facing the small business sector go well beyond that sector. A further 30% of the premises comprise small offices and workshops and it applies to a wide variety of premises, reflecting the diversity of small business. 

The Minister confirmed: “My focus is on helping as many small businesses as I can through these tough economic times. I have seen for myself how many small firms all across NI are struggling to make ends meet as the downturn continues to hit them hard. 

“I cannot deliver an automatic scheme without applying it across the board. The alternative is to get businesses to apply and this adds costs – to the businesses themselves and to government. They have tried this before elsewhere in the UK and it doesn’t work. This scheme will have a three year life and it needs to be kept simple. 

“In any case, small pubs are closing at an alarming rate and are a key component of our tourism product. Banks in small local towns provide a vital function and it is important to help their survival. All small business premises provide employment and result in increased economic activity. 

“I am keen not to get drawn into a debate around what are deemed to be ‘worthy’ businesses and I am disappointed that the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium has decided to do so. They have chosen to misinterpret figurework provided by my Department. I expected better of the local arm of the British Retail Consortium, particularly when I, and my Department, have been so open and accessible about both the proposals and the figurework.”

The Minister continued: “I am hopeful that we can still have a mature debate about this important issue and I will be considering very carefully all the submissions I receive from the business community, including the Consortium. The Executive and Assembly will decide the matter over the coming months and will not be swayed by misleading headlines and attempts to discredit the proposals. 

“Rebuilding and rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy is the Executive’s top priority. To date this has included a range of measures to help all organisations. By 2014/15 the regional rate will have been frozen, in real terms, for seven years. A small business rate relief scheme has, to date, provided approximately £14million to around 16,000 businesses. In addition, empty property relief continues to be held at 50% and manufacturing rates have been frozen at 30%.”