Any rise in business rates or moves to reduce the small business rate relief scheme will damage businesses, cause job losses and critically impact any efforts to grow the local economy business groups have warned.
Speaking out ahead of a budget for the province which is now almost certain to be imposed from Westminster, a number of local leaders have highlighted the danger of negative changes in an already challenging period both economic and political.
In a statement after a meeting with Northern Ireland Office special advisors and senior officials, the CEOs of Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster, Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill said there was alarm at the prospect of an ill-though-out budget imposed from London.
“Both our organisations would much rather be engaging with devolved Ministers on a Budget. However with no Executive in place, the NIO will have to produce a Budget,” they said.
“Our members deserve much more than a ‘care and maintenance’ administration and emergency budgets”
‘At the meeting we were very clear that the proposal to hike business rates by 10% cent, end the small business rate relief scheme and increase car parking charges are complete non-starters”
“If they go ahead with this, then we will have members closing their businesses with substantial jobs losses as result”
FSB NI policy chair, Tina McKenzie said she had expressed her concerns in a letter to Secretary of State Karen Bradley ahead of her statement in the House of Commons this week on the situation.
“At FSB we recognise the value of having a devolved, locally accountable Executive to make decisions for the people of Northern Ireland,” she said.
“However, given the present circumstances, and in order to provide certainty for the private sector and aid the delivery of public services, we are urging the Secretary of State to bring forward a Budget as a matter of urgency.
“Of the highest importance is the continuation of the small business rate relief scheme, which provides a modest but often vital reduction in a major cost to over 25,000 businesses in Northern Ireland.”
Any attempt to remove a “crucial relief” she said would be the “very definition of penny-wise and pound foolish,” damaging growth and risking lost jobs in a sector that employs more people than all large businesses and the entire public sector combined.
“Similarly, we have made clear to the Secretary of State that Industrial De-rating, an important rates discount for the local manufacturing sector, should also be maintained and that an above inflation increase in the non-domestic Regional Rate should be ruled out,” Ms McKenzie added.
“SMEs are the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy; supporting them helps create and sustain jobs and wealth in our society. We hope the Secretary of State recognises their importance when she brings forward the Budget, and does not increase the cost burden on small businesses which face persistent political and economic uncertainty.”