Posted on Thursday 9 May 2019 by John Mulgrew
There will be a full review of Northern Ireland’s business rates system, a top civil servant has revealed.
Sue Gray, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance, announced the full review into the taxation system for companies here, during a Local Government conference, with Retail NI and law firm DWF, at Titanic Belfast.
The reform and re-examination of business rates has been one of the core concerns among the retail and hospitality sectors for the last few years.
It’s one of several key business issues which had been kicked down the road due to the ongoing impasse at Stormont.
The news has been welcomed by Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster.
In a joint statement, the groups said: “Both our organisations are delighted that the Department of Finance have announced this review into non-domestic rates. We have consistently lobbied for this over a number of years and are pleased that our joint call has been heard”
“While this is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end. This review provides us with a roadmap for radical change to an antiquated and not fit for purpose system of business rates which is a major burden for our members
“In this review we will be outlining significant changes to rates, including our proposals for a targeted approach to small business rates relief, a revamp of the rates hardship fund, green rates rebate for business who invest in carbon neutral technology and greater relief for new start businesses.
“At the last UK Budget, the Chancellor gave independent retailers and hospitality businesses a third off their rate bills in England. We want nothing less than this for our members in Northern Ireland."
Ms Gray says that "in recent years significant changes have taken place in our high streets and town centres. It is critical from a business perspective, as well as a government funding perspective, that our rating system is capable of responding to this wider process of change. That’s why today I am announcing a full and comprehensive review of business rates.
“We must create a rating system which generates the funding our public services need while supporting businesses in all sector and enabling economic growth right across Northern Ireland.
“In an environment where we are working without ministers, there are limitations to what we can do by way of policy change. But we need to be ready with updated advice for incoming ministers for their return to office. This fundamental review is therefore a critical part of this process.”
And Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said:
“We wholeheartedly welcome the announcement of this review and it is a credit the Permanent Secretary’s drive to make positive change.
“The fact that retail is 12% of the economy and pays a quarter of all business rates is simply not sustainable especially give the seismic structural changes going on in the industry.
“We have some of the highest business rates in Europe and they are a disincentive to investing in Northern Ireland. We are already playing catch up to the rest of the UK on business rates reform where our businesses pay 12p in the pound more than the UK average.
“This review must look at all aspects of the system. There must be equity in any new system that allows for a widening of the tax base and an audit of the plethora of exemptions some of which have been in place since the 1930s.
“If we don’t get business rates right, we risk further shop closures which will not only cost jobs but leave a gaping hole in NI finances.”