Radical reform of business rates and the establishment of a dedicated town regeneration team should be among the key priorities for political leaders during the life of the next Assembly, businesses have said.
Launching a five-year economic plan, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) also called for action on red tape, the development of a cross border retail forum, new enterprise zones and further infrastructure investment.
NIIRTA chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “Retail is the largest contributor to our private sector economy but our members still feel that there are too many barriers to business in place.
“We are calling for the Executive to take our proposals on board and to work to secure retail’s rightful position as a key partner for growth in a new, more efficient private sector led Northern Ireland.”
The economic programme outlines some 97 recommendations, setting out policy priorities for each of the nine new Executive departments, which will be established after the Assembly election in May.
Mr Roberts added: “In our economic programme for government we outline detailed proposals for a radical reform of business rates, new enterprise zones, city deals, more BIDs (business improvement district) and investment in infrastructure.
“Action on addressing the high business costs, a coordinated plan to tackle red tape and creating a more vocational and professional education system are all key priorities in our plan.”
Also at the launch in Belfast’s multimillion-pound Titanic visitors’ centre was Stormont’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
He said politicians were left in no doubt about traders’ demands.
“The focus must not be on violence or riots on the street but on bread and butter issues which improve people’s lives,” he said.
“I am encouraged unemployment rates have dropped by 11,000 in the last year.
“Through the new structure we will be better placed to defend core public services, attract foreign direct investment, support indigenous businesses and create new jobs for all our people.
“We must be lean, agile and responsive in a world where change is rapid and relentless. The plan being launched tells me our retailers are crystal clear about what it thinks government should do.”