Mid Ulster councillors have welcomed an announcement by the Department of Finance that a major review of the business rates system is to be carried out.
A delegation from the local District Council recently met with department officials to highlight their concerns that high rates were contributing to the decline of town centres.
Sue Gray, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Finance, said: “In recent years, significant changes have taken place in our high streets and town centres.
“It is critical from a business perspective, as well as a government funding perspective, that our rating system is capable of responding to this wider process of change. That’s why today I am announcing a full and comprehensive review of business rates.
“We must create a rating system which generates the funding our public services need while supporting businesses in all sector and enabling economic growth right across Northern Ireland.
“In an environment where we are working without Ministers there are limitations to what we can do by way of policy change. But we need to be ready with updated advice for incoming Ministers for their return to office. This fundamental review is therefore a critical part of this process.”
Describing it as “long overdue”, Ulster Unionist councillor Trevor Wilson said he hoped the review would not take long and something positive and constructive would emerge. “We will have to wait and see what, if anything, comes of it,” he said. “It’s important to the future of our high streets that high rates for small businesses is tackled.
Independent Republican Councillor Barry Monteith said the current system of business rates is completely outdated.
“Especially when we look at other Countries like England and Wales where many small businesses and retailers pay no or substantially reduced rates. We need the same for small businesses and retailers here,” he said. “If we are serious about saving town centres then the rates situation must be addressed. The high rates in town centres are adding to their decline. I support any initiative that addresses this problem.”
Part of the review will see a joint ‘Innovation Lab’ with other Government Departments. The Lab event will gather leading policy experts in the field of urban regeneration, taxation and the high street to capture their perspectives, ideas and options on a range of issues affecting town centre regeneration, including business rates.