Stormont Executive needed now to help support retail sector

Northern Ireland’s retail sector urgently needs support from a functioning Stormont Executive to deal with critical issues such as rates the head of an industry body has claimed.

Speaking as figures for the period for June showed footfall in the province declined at the fastest rate in the UK, Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) director Aodhán Connolly said renewed confidence was essential.

“This is a disappointing performance in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK with our shopper footfall figures again being rock bottom of the league table.

“Northern Ireland saw the fastest decline on the High Street of all the nations/regions of -2.9 %. An identical fall of -2.9% was seen in retail parks and -1.9% drop in shopping centres.

“What we need now is renewed consumer confidence and greater certainty about the future, and some political leadership would assist.”

While the EU has been making progress on its Brexit position and with formal negotiations started, he said there was no time to waste in the bid to secure a fair Brexit for consumers in Northern Ireland by ensuring that ordinary shoppers aren’t hit with the cost of unwanted new tariffs.

“But we also need our Executive back up and running to deal with issues in their purview,” Mr Connolly stressed.

“There must be some bold decisions taken on the future of the outdated, costly and inequitable business rates system.

“It simply is not tenable for retail to be 12% of the economy yet pay over 22% of business rates. Retailers here in NI have also been paying into the Apprenticeship Levy for several months now without any clarity over how it will be spent or how to access the monies which we continue to pay in.

“We need certainty to allow our industry to continue to grow, invest and provide great value to shoppers here, and for that it is essential that we have an Executive and one that focuses on making Northern Ireland a better place to invest, to work and to live.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard said: “The -2.6% drop in footfall in Northern Ireland in June was contra to the +0.8% rise across the UK but tells a similar story to the sales statistics we are seeing, with the Springboard Sales Tracker recording drops in sales in department stores of -1.6% and of -2.3% in fashion stores. . However, sales are presenting a very varied picture, dependent on the breadth of the measure used and inflationary pressures which push sales values up.”