By Marcus Leach

Wise amendments Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has made to his plans for funding an extension of the Small Business Rates Relief scheme in Northern Ireland demonstrate the need for proper on-going scrutiny of the Bill to improve it further.

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) is pleased at proposed changes to limit the range of businesses due to benefit from the scheme and at some reductions in the cost of it. But due to the continued threat to future investment these measures represent the NIRC calls for the Assembly to require full consideration of other points made by the Committee of Finance and Personnel in their scrutiny.

The NIRC supports rates relief for genuine small businesses but believes the cost should be borne by a wider range of sectors, reflecting the broad range of businesses which stand to benefit.

"We're very glad to see the positive steps Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has taken to improve the proposed Small Business Rate Relief scheme, in line with the Committee of Finance and Personnel recommendations," Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director, Jane Bevis, said.

"It's right that the businesses which benefit should be genuinely small and not just multiples operating out of small premises. We're glad to see some savings being made by targeting the benefit more precisely. Confirmation of a time-limit on the scheme is also welcome.

"It's disappointing that the Committee's recognition of unintended effects on future inward investment and the need for fairer funding of the scheme has not been taken on board. Given the very difficult and deteriorating trading conditions which retailers are operating in, persisting with a Large Retail Levy poses a serious threat to the sector's ability to invest and grow. This burden should be spread more thinly across a wider range of businesses to help reduce that potential damage in constituencies all over Northern Ireland.

"The scrutiny of the rate relief and levy plans conducted by the Committee was extremely thorough and deserves to be properly considered by the Assembly as this Bill is taken forward. Improvements have been made and proper time needs to be taken to prevent further unintended consequences which could still arise as a result of this tax. This is not the time for accelerated passage."

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