‘Business rate review is inadequate,’ claim Larne businessmen

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Two leading Larne businessman have hit out at the review of business rates consultation ahead of the deadline for responses.

The Department of Finance initiative is part of what it says is a widespread review to ensure the rating system is effective and fair while raising funds to support public services. Each year business rates generate over £655million in Northern Ireland.

Encouraging responses before November 11, the Department is seeking views on how the tax base could be widened to facilitate a lower level of individual bills, whether the current suite of reliefs and exemptions is what is need and do they recognise ability to pay as well as what other taxation options could be considered to raise revenue.

Mid and East Antrim Council organised a workshop for councillors to share their ideas on improving the rating system.

Speaking after the event, the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Beth Adger MBE said: “Thank you to the Department of Finance for meeting with our elected members to discuss how we can improve our business rating system in Northern Ireland.

“Our council will always do everything we can to support our businesses, and I would encourage them to take part in the ongoing consultation to ensure their voices are heard.”.

However, businessmen Tom and Paul McMullen - who in the wake of the Dunnes Stores Main Street closure in September warned that Larne has a business rates poundage of £0.64 which makes it just 1.6% short of being the most expensive region for business rates in the United Kingdom - believe a Westminster-led review is needed.

They told the Larne Times: “Anyone who was expecting a full and comprehensive analysis by the DoF of the challenges being faced by the business sector to inform its consultation will have been sadly disappointed by the inadequate nature of the published review documentation. It stretches to a mere 16 pages much of which is simply a copy and paste from a previous and much more detailed consultation launched in October 2015. By comparison the current consultation document is simplistic to the point of being seriously misleading.”

They go on to claim that “it is clear that if the business sector in Northern Ireland is to get a fair and balanced review of business rates it will be most unlikely to come via this DoF review but rather via an independent inquiry by the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee Inquiry. Such an independent inquiry is being pressed for by Sammy Wilson MP for Mid and East Antrim.

“That inquiry should provide a fair and balanced mechanism through which the Northern Ireland business sector can make representations regarding the grossly unfair rates burden carried by the sector and its debilitating effect on many small businesses and on economic performance.”