Retail steady but clear govt guidance needed

NIRC chief Aodh�n Connolly
NIRC chief Aodh�n Connolly

Retail footfall in the province rose for the second in three months as the 2.5% decline was replaced with a 0.5% jump in activity.

Over the same period, the vacancy rate for premises fell to 15.3%, compared to 16.1% in April.

“These results are heartening for Northern Ireland’s retail industry, with a welcome reduction in the shop premises vacancy rate after a slight dip last quarter as well as a small but still significant rise in footfall,” said Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.

“Indeed footfall has risen in two of the past three months showing that retailers are meeting head on the structural changes to the industry including the ongoing popularity of online retailing.”

While it was encouraging to see vacancy rates fall in two of the past three quarters, he said it remained to be seen whether that reflected units being taken up on a temporary or more sustained basis.”

“Retailers’ prospects are ultimately determined by the state of the economy, the balance between their income and costs and their own ability to adapt and seize on the opportunities that arise,” Mr Connolly added.

“These are testing times for the industry which is one of Northern Ireland’s largest private sector employers, and the Stormont Executive and MLAs can assist by taking tangible action in the upcoming detailed Programme for Government to bolster consumer and business sentiment.”

“Retailers will be looking for a clear road map for future tax and regulatory changes, a tight lid on personal and business tax rates and charges, and for clear leadership on how those who pay into the Apprenticeship Levy can fully draw down on those funds for their staff no matter what their age or skills requirements.

“The Governments in Westminster and in Stormont must also provide certainty as soon as possible on the effects that Brexit will have here,” he added.

“ As the only part of the UK with a land border to the Eurozone, it is imperative that we as an industry can plan effectively for the changes that will invariably come.”