By Marcus Leach

A five point plan to revitalise the retail sector in Northern Ireland and help rebalance the economy will be laid out today (Wednesday) by the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC).

NIRC Director, Jane Bevis, will discuss the plan when she gives evidence to the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the proposed Large Retailer Levy and Small Business Rates Relief plans.

The headlines from the plan are:

- a fairly funded extension of the Small Business Rates Relief Scheme
- a rates reduction for all in Northern Ireland, both businesses and households
- the accelerated introduction of Business Improvement Districts
- an urgent overhaul of the planning system
- a commitment to developing the skills of the workforce

"The best route to a bright economic future for Northern Ireland involves the private sector and Executive working together to attract investment, revitalise consumer confidence and regenerate town centres. With the right support, retailers — small and large — can play a significant part in this," Northern Ireland Retail Consortium Director, Jane Bevis, said.

"The Executive is right to be looking to help small businesses through rate relief, providing it is fairly funded. That means all sectors which stand to benefit should contribute. There also needs to be a focus on collecting bad debt and reducing the cost of local government in Northern Ireland with the ultimate aim of lowering rates for all, households and businesses alike.

"Retailers are at the heart of our towns and cities but many need a shot in the arm. Reforming the planning system and prioritising town centres, along with urgently legislating to create Business Improvement Districts, would give a much needed boost to regeneration efforts. Finally, retailers want to see their commitment to staff training matched by national initiatives to improve the skills of the Northern Ireland workforce.

"The key is teamwork. I look forward to discussing with the Executive how retailers and ministers can work together more effectively to achieve the common goal of a stable and thriving Northern Ireland economy."

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