Help the high street help itself

NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts - on the right please  lose the other bloke
NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts - on the right please lose the other bloke

INITIATIVES in the new year such as a freeze on business rates and the development of a local version of the American Small Shop Saturday are some of the things that could help retailers survive in 2013, the independent retail lobby group NIIRTA has claimed.

Setting out its policy priorities for the year ahead, the trade body’s chief executive, Glyn Roberts, said the next 12 months represented an unrivalled challenge to traders across the Province, but said there was still a determination to survive.

“We are optimistic that in 2013, the fortunes of our retail sector can be turned around if they embrace innovation, see online as opportunity and not a threat, and be world leaders in customer service,” he said.

“2012 was one of the toughest years on record for the retail sector, with hundreds of small shops and smaller chain stores closing, resulting in our town centre shop vacancy rate being not just the worst in the UK, but twice the national average,” he said.

“In 2013, NIIRTA will be redoubling our efforts to support local traders, town centres and help create the next generation of retail entrepreneurs. Our focus will be on solutions not problems.

“Firstly we would call upon all 26 local councils when they are discussing striking a non-domestic rate, to freeze rates for this year to support local traders in these difficult times. If councils did this alongside the further extension by the DFP of the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme, this would take some pressure off struggling local traders.

“NIIRTA also wants to see a ‘Small Shop Saturday’ for a designated day this year across every village, town and city.

“We envisage this scheme being similar to the US version and would not just give more to support local traders but to also recognise their unique contribution to the economy and local community.

“The Executive also needs to bring forward an urgent Shop Vacancy Strategy to address town centre dereliction and engage with the Treasury on establishing long overdue local Enterprise Zones.”

Just before the New Year the newly-formed Town Centre Alliance presented its case to the Executive Sub Group on the economy, outlining the position facing traders at present.

“At the meeting we didn’t bring the ministers problems, we brought them solutions to the challenges facing our retail sector and town centres,” said Mr Roberts.

“We put forward new ideas on rates, planning, car parking and above all we pressed the m inisters on the need for a new Shop Vacancy Strategy, given that one in five shops are now empty.”