AGAINST a backdrop of falling business confidence the UK’s largest business group has called on politicians at Stormont to protect what it describes as “one of the best pro-business policies to emerge from the Assembly”.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) lobbied successfully for the introduction of Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) in 2009.
Each year since then the Executive has protected this relief for smaller businesses that sees them paying less in their property rates; a policy that has been commended by FSB.
However, the FSB’s head of external affairs, Roger Pollen, said there was alarm at calls from some quarters for the smallest businesses to have this relief taken off them and to pass it to certain sectors, with no evidence around either the damage its removal could do, or any notional benefit that the recipients might gain.
“The Executive has done good things for smaller businesses over the last number of years by introducing then extending and maintaining the Small Business Rates Relief,” he said.
“It has been one of the best pro-business policies to emerge from the Assembly. In England, the Chancellor has seen the benefits and gone even further, lifting 600,000 smaller businesses out of rates altogether.
“Any plans to go in the opposite direction here, and start adding to the rates bills of smaller businesses in an attempt to ‘pick winners’ is very unwise.”
With wide agreement that the rating system for non-domestic properties needs to be overhauled, he said that at a point when business confidence had slid into negative territory for the first time in four years “we need the Executive to ‘do nothing’ with this issue and allow businesses to have some certainty around their plans.”
FSB gave evidence to the Stormont Finance Committee recently highlighting the need to protect rates relief, and encouraging it to look more imaginatively at how to use the rating system to remove barriers from start-ups and scale-ups stating that evidence that the start-up rate here was half that of the rest of the UK.
“FSB will continue to stand up for all smaller businesses and will lobby hard to get the Executive to ‘do nothing,” he added.