The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium launches its policy agenda for the forthcoming Assembly elections

LONDON, 2015-10-5 — /EPR Retail News/ — Today the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) has launched its policy agenda for the forthcoming Assembly elections and beyond.

The 8-page document highlights the contribution that retail makes to Northern Ireland communities, the supply chain and the economy. It also sets out the changes that are needed to ensure the growth and continued success of the industry which is the region’s largest private sector employer.

The document covers 8 key areas where the NIRC believes vital and integral changes are required to protect and support the industry.

Speaking at the launch Aodhán Connolly, Director of the NIRC, said “The reason this is simply not a manifesto – as others may be launching in the coming months – but rather a policy agenda is simple. This is not a wish list. This is what we truly believe is essential so that retailers continue to make a substantial economic and social contribution to Northern Ireland through the taxes they pay, the jobs they create, by keeping down costs for households and through the routes they open up to markets elsewhere in the UK and overseas for local producers and manufacturers.”

“We hope that each of the political parties will look at this blue print for the retail industry and take on board our recommendations in advance of the forthcoming elections”

The chief recommendation within the document is the need for a fundamental reform of the business tax system in Northern Ireland. As Mr Connolly explained “Business rates are one of the biggest disincentives to retailers to invest or grow here. In short the current system is not fit for purpose. If there is not a fundamental reform of business rates before 2017, Northern Ireland could end up levying the highest business rates not only in the UK but in Western Europe. All political parties must commit to reform this outdated tax.”

Other areas covered in the detailed policy paper include the need for Northern Ireland to have a retail strategy which sets out how the NI Executive will support and nurture the growth and success of the industry. The industry also wants to see retail named a priority industry, clarity on the devolution of corporation tax and the mooted NI-wide deposit return scheme for drinks containers rejected. Specific themes and recommendations include:

– High Streets and the need for a clear vision for the rejuvenation of our town and city centres also play a key role in the document

– Any refreshed public health policy needs to recognise the need to engage all relevant stakeholders, be evidence based and assessed to ensure it delivers its intended outcomes
– Environmental policy needs to be more stable and robust with smart regulation that would enable a much wider understanding of the benefits of energy efficiency within the retail industry and would leverage much higher levels of investment
– On planning the next Northern Ireland Government should work with local authorities to encourage them to plan for success, working with neighbouring authorities to ensure a strategic approach to development
– Investment is needed in education so that the number of people with high-level technology, data analytics and digital services skills meet the needs of rapidly expanding online businesses. Education reform should focus on vocational training, better careers advice and employability skills. All too often retail jobs are simply dismissed as low-skilled and dead-end. In fact, the opposite is true. The industry offers real opportunities to learn skills and progress in a wide variety of roles
– On retail crime the NIRC is calling on the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Department of Justice to have a dedicated business crime strategy, one that is fully resourced and that recognises that retail crime is not a victimless crime
Mr Connolly concluded: “Our industry is very proud of its investment and the part it plays in communities across Northern Ireland. Over 70,000 people work in almost 10,000 stores in communities right across Northern Ireland. This does not take into account the thousands of jobs that are created and sustained through the retail supply chain.

“This year alone our members will buy over £1.2 billion of Northern Ireland agri-food produce, around a quarter of Northern Ireland’s total output.

“What we are asking for in this document is support from the political parties in Northern Ireland and the next Executive to allow the retail industry to continue to invest in Northern Ireland PLC and to allow it to play a strong part in the NI economic recovery.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors:
1. Please find attached the NIRC Policy Agenda
2. Please find attached a photograph of Aodhán Connolly, Director of the NIRC, outside Stormont with the NIRC Policy Agenda

For further details and media enquiries please contact Aodhán Connolly 07880039744 aodhan.connolly@brc.org.uk

British Retail Consortium, 21 Dartmouth Street, Westminster, London, SW1H 9BP. 020 7854 8900. info@brc.org.uk.