By Marcus Leach

Major retailers in Northern Ireland are preparing to take on more than 2,000 extra staff for the festive season, on top of the 30,000 people they employ all year round.

The businesses recruiting for Christmas include Asda, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Next, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Toys R Us, all of which are due to face higher business rates from April 2012 under plans from the Northern Ireland Executive.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) warns the proposed Large Retailer Levy would increase the operating costs for businesses which are otherwise well-placed to drive growth, attract investment and support jobs. It is also discriminatory in targeting just one part of a single sector, while the relief it's due to fund will go to a wide range of businesses.

"Christmas is the most important trading period for most of the retail sector. Every year the increased business supports hundreds of permanent jobs and creates temporary opportunities for hundreds more," Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director, Jane Bevis, said.

"Increased employment is an essential part of rebalancing the Northern Ireland economy, but ministers seem determined to press ahead with an extra tax on some of the businesses best placed to provide it.

"The retailers due to be targeted by the Executive's levy support 30,000 jobs in the region and are providing 2,000 more opportunities this Christmas. The Executive should not be penalising businesses which help to provide festive cheer — and festive jobs."

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