The Large Retailer Levy proposed by the Northern Ireland Executive “could make things worse for everyone” on the country’s high street, an industry body has warned.
A consultation on the plan, which will see retailers with large store numbers paying an extra £85,000 a year in rates per premises, was launched yesterday and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) wasted no time in expressing its opposition.
NIRC points out that the move contradicts calls for the province to be able to set its own level of corporation tax in order to increase business investment and that they pose a particular threat at a time of struggling retail sales.
Jane Bevis, NIRC Director, said: “The retail sector as a whole – small and large retailers alike – is paying too high a proportion of the business rates bill. We agree small retailers need a helping hand.
“We agree town centres need investment and regeneration. But the large retailer levy, which will also apply to large stores on the high street, could make things worse for everyone.”
NIRC is a new body which has been set up by the British Retail Consortium to specifically represents retailers in the region but already it has clashed with another industry body which supports the proposed levy.
The Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) says that legislation is needed to protect smaller traders at this economically volatile time.
NIIRTA CEO Glyn Roberts commented: “The reality is that the big high street retailers such as Asda, Tesco and many others continue to make billions of pounds of profit and have performed well during the recession.
“The proposed large store levy, which has all party support, is about creating a level playing field and it is time for the big multiples to start paying their way in relation to business rates.”
Research published by Retail Gazette last week showed that retail Northern Ireland employees are relatively happy in comparison to their English neighbours, and received the best pay deals in the UK in the 16 months to April 2011.
Despite this, high streets in the country are still struggling and whilst the NIRC admits that trading in many towns needs revitalising, it argues that this proposed law would be detrimental to independents and large retailers alike.
Bevis added: “Town centres need a comprehensive package of measures to encourage investment, draw in customers and provide a good mix of retail, leisure and public service outlets for the whole community.
“Large retailers have a track record of sustained investment in business improvement districts, to the benefit of all local retailers. That’s where the focus should be.”