Agenda item

Deputation - To Receive Representatives from Retail NI, Hospitality Ulster and Manufacturing NI Regarding their Request to Reduce the District Rate on Non-Domestic Properties (copy of associated documents attached).

Minutes:

The Committee received Mr Glyn Roberts, CEO, RetailNI, Mr Colin Neill, CEO, Hospitality Ulster and Mr Stephen Kelly, CEO, Manufacturing Northern Ireland who gave a joint presentation on Regeneration NI – Creating 21st Century Town and City Centres and A New Deal for Northern Ireland addressing the following areas:

 

Regeneration NI

 

Introduction

 

(1)          Creating 21st Century Town centres

 

Retail NI Policy Priorities

 

(2)          Adapting and Diversifying

 

Retail in Policy Priorities

 

(3)          Business Rates – A Blight on Business

 

Retail NI Policy Priorities

 

(4)          Impact of Technology

 

Retail NI Policy Priorities

 

(5)          A New Deal for our Rural Community

 

Retail NI Policy Priorities

 

(6)          Town Centre Infrastructure and Public Realm

 

Retail NI Policy Priorities

 

A New Deal for Northern Ireland

 

Introduction

 

Productivity

 

Regulatory

 

Connectivity

 

Accountability

 

Skills

 

Commitment

 

Mr Kelly pointed out that the three organisations had come together across a joint platform and would be keen to include Derry City and Strabane District Council in their future endeavours.  He referred to the two major issues of concern for businesses in regards to rates:

 

1.                  Rate poundage and the impact thereon on businesses.

2.            Growing the rates base.

 

Mr Kelly referred to the huge uncertainty being faced by businesses with regard to Brexit, which together with slow economy growth and the increased operating costs was creating a major problem.   As such he referred to the detrimental impact of any further rates increases on business.

 

Mr Neill referred to the burden of rates for businesses in Northern Ireland and said the three organisations were keen to work with Council in this regard to increase awareness in relation to the impact thereof. 

 

Mr Roberts pointed out that this was the first time the deputation had addressed any Council.  He expressed their support for a City Deal for the City and region.  He said this was ultimately about growing Northern Ireland and in particular the City and Strabane.  He pointed out that both the high street and retail sector were going through a period of reconstruction which undoubtedly would produce casualties which in order to survive changes within the retail trade were required.  All three organisations had lobbied government regarding the future of the high street. He referred to the recent UK Budget which had given independent retailers and hospitality businesses in England a third off their rate bills.  However, their counterparts in Northern Ireland had not received any benefits.  

 

Mr Neill continued that rates were the biggest issue facing the future of town centres and high streets.  He said rates reform was absolutely critical to the future of the economy and referred to the “New Deal for Northern Ireland” document which the three organisations had jointly launched wherein they called for a radical reduction in business rates to support towns and city centres to ensure small business owners could invest more of their own money into growing their businesses and employing more staff.  He referred to the Prime Minister’s announcement the previous day that towns and cities in the North of England would receive 1.6 billion investment and to the need to ensure that Northern Ireland received similar funding.

 

Mr Kelly pointed out that the organisations had engaged Oxford School of Economics to review business rates in all Council areas in Northern Ireland during the last three years.  These had risen by 13% compared to a 3% increase in Great Britain which was an approximate four times higher increase facing local business which was proving a major challenge.  He acknowledged Council’s efforts to be as efficient as possible and improve economic viability and success for the region and to maintain the lowest rate possible.  Whilst offering support to Council in it’s endeavours in this regard pointed out that this could not be at the expense of existing businesses. 

 

Members thanked the deputation for their presentation and then raised the following points:

 

-              Referred to the work being carried out in regards to the City Deal and city centre regeneration and welcomed the deputation’s support in respect thereof. 

-              Acknowledged concerns expressed regarding the rates and the impact thereof on businesses.

-              Pointed out that compared to England, Scotland and Wales, the North of Ireland had a much lower employment figure which had created additional pressures.

-              Referred to individual Party support for a number of issues raised by the deputation which could be further pursued.

-              Referred to discussion on rates reform started by the former Minister for Finance which would have taken considerable time to come to fruition, even if the Executive were re-established.

-              Referred to the need to secure government funding in respect of high street regeneration.

-              Acknowledged the existing situation regarding small business and the burden faced by them in terms of rates.

-              Anticipated that greater competition could be introduced in the future.

-              Referred to the impact of the current political impasse in terms of policy and legislation and more specifically a City deal for the City and the region.

-              Commended the work carried out by Council in terms of striving to achieve a minimal rates increase.

-              Referred to the fact that Northern Ireland was currently being operated by Civil Servants with no mandate.

-              Referred to the considerable number of issues under consideration which would develop and grow the economy which could not be progressed because the structures at Stormont were not in place.

-              Queried the deputations’ position in regard to greater powers being granted to local authorities to assist in progressing a number of projects.

-              Expressed concern at the serious lack of progress development and regeneration progress on major issues because of the absence of the Stormont government and the fact that legislative powers had not been devolved to local authorities.

-              Acknowledged the impact of increased rates on business and city centre regeneration.

-              What action was it anticipated could be taken to address the rates problem without an Executive in power at Stormont?

-              Queried if the suggested £20 million government funding, which had not been forthcoming in respect of high street regeneration, was in compliance with the Barnett formula. 

-              Referred to the spin-off effect which rates increases in major towns and cities had on small towns and villages in the rural area.

-              Queried the current position with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in terms of securing government funding.

-              Whilst acknowledging comments regarding growing the rates base referred to other elements which were delaying all potential planning matters which would add greatly to Council’s rates base.

 

Mr Glynn referred to the importance of regeneration for Councils and particularly in regards to a City Deal for the City and the region.  He stated the transfer of powers to local authorities would assist in addressing major challenges.   He acknowledged the seriously detrimental impact arising from the absence of an Assembly at Stormont particularly in terms of budget allocation.  He stated that Councils could play a key role in moving things forward.  He referred to the importance of investment in regards to training and skills.  He stated that there were a number of models which Council could adapt to suit its needs.  He referred to the need to have the right environment in place in order for key projects to grow and flourish.

 

The deputation responded to the above points as follows:

 

-              Acknowledged the current position in regards to the lack of government at Stormont resulting in funding allocation being directed from Westminster and the impact thereof on businesses.

-              The current flaws in funding allocation in terms of city centre and high street regeneration could not be corrected within the Barnett principles.

-              Expressed concern at the lack of progress or assurances regarding funding despite intense lobbying of the Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary.

-              Referred to the need to make known the vital need for funding allocation in this area.

-              Referred to the need for a tourism strategy in terms of improving and extending the hospitality industry.

-              Explained that employment in the rural area tended to emanate mainly from the farming, agricultural and manufacturing industries with hospitality and retail being more city centre based.

-              It was unlikely that large digital and IT based companies would locate in rural areas.

-              Pointed out that rural communities did not tend to survive without an identified source of income and would be forced to move to other parts of Northern Ireland.

-              The findings of the Oxford School of Economics survey suggested that more than half of the jobs in the Mid-Ulster area were in manufacturing with 40 per cent in East Antrim and Banbridge.

-              Pointed out that manufacturing was the second largest source of employment in this Council district.

-              Referred to the need to encourage investment by manufacturing companies in the rural area.

-              Pointed out that the three organisations recognised that each of the eleven Councils were key players in economic development and they hoped to strengthen their relationship with Councils and work alongside them  in terms of addressing the rates issue.

-              Welcomed Council’s Growth Plan and referred to possible assistance which could be offered to Council.

-              Queried what action Council was taking in terms of growing its rates base and encouraging businesses to grow.

 

The Chairperson thanked the deputation for their presentation and acknowledged the work they had undertaken and welcomed their support for a fair deal across Northern Ireland.  He stated that housing development within the Council area was going from strength to strength which greatly benefited the construction industry.  He concluded that Council’s Growth Plan concentrated on all elements of the economy and anticipated that the City Deal would become a reality in the near future.

 

 

Supporting documents: