Independent retail group NIIRTA has called for the reform of commercial rates to be placed firmly at the centre of the Executive’s economic strategy in 2017.
Setting out its wish list for the year ahead, chief executive Glyn Roberts said a “reboot” of current economic policy was also required.
“The 12.5% corporation tax rate is no silver bullet and without real investment in Skills and Infrastructure its real potential will be lost,” Mr Roberts said.
In light of Brexit and the rapidly changing world economy we need to see a ‘reboot’ of economic policy in the new Programme toward a stronger focus on skills, infrastructure and radical reform of business rates.”
The York Street Interchange, he said, was just one example of an infrastructure project critical for growth.
“Congestion on this bottleneck is fast becoming a major problem for shoppers and freight transport to Belfast and beyond.”
“We also need a new belt and braces entrepreneurship strategy to include the Executive, Invest NI, councils, colleges, banks and private sector all working on an agreed plan.
“The Department for the Economy could take forward a new Enterprise and Small Business Bill to create the policy framework to create conditions for the next generation of entrepreneurs, particularly new independent retailers,” he said.
Adding that Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir had made excellent progress on bringing forward a new targeted Rates Relief Scheme for independent retail and hospitality sectors, Mr Roberts said he urged all parties to support his plan itself based upon a joint plan submitted by NIIRTA and Hospitality Ulster”
“This plan is not just about rates relief - it is about investing in the future of villages, towns and cities and two vital sectors who contribute so much to tourism, supporting local producers and above all tens of thousands of local jobs,” he said.
On Brexit, he said a clear plan was required to ensure the protection of tariff and barrier-free access to the EU 11million Euro Single Market, with its 500 million consumers and 26 million businesses.
A top priority was to ensure that Brexit did not result in the hardening of the border and that no barriers are placed on trade or cross-border workers.
“Northern Ireland needs some degree of special status in its relationship with the EU and we call upon the Executive and NIO to produce a draft model of what that will look like which could form the basis of negotiations.
“This year must see the publication of a radical pro-business Executive Programme for Government,” he added.
“With a competitive rates policy, modernised infrastructure and investment in skills, there is no reason why Northern Ireland could not be the best place in the UK and Ireland to locate or start a business”