‘Clear wins’ for NI plc, but it’s only the start

OPIN­ION

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News - By glyn roberts, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of re­tail ni

THIS Bud­get is to be wel­comed by the re­tail and wider busi­ness com­mu­nity in North­ern Ire­land.

While we haven’t got ev­ery­thing we pushed for, fund­ing for the Primark fire, City Deals and an air pas­sen­ger duty (APD) work­ing group are clearly wins for North­ern Ire­land plc.

It also shows the im­por­tance of the busi­ness com­mu­nity’s engagement and set­ting out its stall at West­min­ster and at the Con­ser­va­tive Party Con­fer­ence.

Re­tail NI has been ex­ten­sively lob­by­ing at West­min­ster for mea­sures to ad­dress the Primark fire af­ter­math and adding our voice to the call for City Deals for Belfast and Lon­don­derry.

Along with our col­leagues, Hos­pi­tal­ity Ul­ster and Man­u­fac­tur­ing NI, Re­tail NI pub­lished our joint ‘New Deal for North­ern Ire­land’ at one of the big­gest ever North­ern Ire­land events at the House of Com­mons, at which we called for ac­tion on busi­ness rates, City Deals, in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment and APD.

While the Bud­get an­nounce­ment of £350m for the Belfast City Re­gion Deal falls short of the £450m which is needed, it is nev­er­the­less a step for­ward for what is an am­bi­tious plan, which has the po­ten­tial to de­liver 20,000 jobs.

It must also be the cat­a­lyst for a huge pro­gramme of town and city cen­tre re­gen­er­a­tion in that area.

We were one of the first busi­ness or­gan­i­sa­tions to call for City Deals for Belfast and Derry and are pleased to see them both pro­gressed in the Bud­get.

Re­tail NI will be seek­ing ur­gent clar­i­fi­ca­tion from the Govern­ment that the pro­posed busi­ness rates re­lief re­duc­tion out­lined for in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers in Eng­land will ap­ply here.

Rates re­form is ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal to the fu­ture of the econ­omy.

Many small traders we rep­re­sent are strug­gling to pay their rate bills and we are call­ing for the largest ever rate re­lief of £100m to sup­port our town and city cen­tres, to en­sure small busi­ness own­ers can rein­vest more of their own money into grow­ing their busi- ness and em­ploy­ing more staff.

We be­lieve that eco­nomic pol­icy now needs to be re­booted, with a stronger fo­cus on re­form­ing busi­ness rates, in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment, skills and ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion.

This Bud­get moves us to­wards this re­think.

In the 18 months since the last Ex­ec­u­tive met, the world and the econ­omy have moved on.

An en­tirely new and rad­i­cal ap­proach is now needed to ad­dress the huge chal­lenges fac­ing North­ern Ire­land as we ap­proach Brexit.

The Sec­re­tary of State needs to clar­ify what the ex­tra £320m in this Bud­get for the North­ern Ire­land Ex­ec­u­tive is go­ing to be spent on, given that we have no Ex­ec­u­tive.

Is it Karen Bradley or David Ster­ling we need to talk to?

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