Forget Corporation Tax. Our high business rates are putting local shops out of business and killing our town centres…

Many of you may remember this famous 1980 Queen Hit, a song about dying in a gunfight, but in 2015 could be equally interpreted as a commentary on the death of retail and commercial businesses located in all the Town and City Centres of Northern Ireland.

Many commentators have given their opinions as to the demise of the traditional high street and suggested that it is due to changes in shopping habits, the growth of the internet, the growth of out of town retailing and parking charges. Whilst each of these issues has undoubtedly had an a negative effect on the  traditional ‘high street’ businesses, there is one factor in Northern Ireland above all others which is putting local businesses under which is unaffordable ‘Business Rates’.

Our high streets are now starting to resemble ‘ghetto’ areas with their boarded up shop fronts and high proliferation of charity shops all caused by the ‘ridiculous’ levels of business rates demanded from our local businesses by Stormont. This situation which has gotten markedly worse following the recent REVAL2015 which we were told was a revenue neutral revaluation, but has been turned out to be one of the largest tax ‘smash and grabs’ unleashed by the NI Assembly in its short history.

The non- domestic rates REVAL2015 has become a tipping point for many of our ‘locally owned’ businesses. In my home town of Newry last week alone, three retail businesses pulled down their roller shutters in the City Centre for the very last time and it is unlikely that any business will be opening in their place anytime soon due the unaffordability of business rates. Land and Property Services (LPS) now typically demands anywhere from £5,000 and £10,000 in rates to trade in an average sized shop / office located in  any Town / City Centre location in Northern Ireland regardless of the trade or profitability of the business activity undertaken.

Unless you have a very high margin business or have been trading for over 10 – 20 Years with an established customer base, you are going to struggle to survive and you can forget about start-ups opening unless they already have funding behind them. In addition alongside the boarded up shop fronts, charity shops continue to open new shops at an alarming rate as they have the competitive advantage of not having to pay any business rates. To put this in context, Newry now has 26 Charity Shops which has resulted in an even poorer retail mix putting further pressure on the retailers who remain as the city becomes an less attractive retail destination for the customer to visit.

Many readers, politicians and civil servants do not seem to understand the trading activity that has to happen to generate the level of rates LPS demands. In Newry for example they expect the owners of our only City Centre Hotel, a locally family owned business to now pay business rates of £255,692 per annum, which is just short of £5,000 per week, considering Newry is one of the most socially disadvantaged Cities not only in the UK but in Europe, this level of taxation on a locally owned business is lunacy.

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The former Ethel Austin Store in Newry has been vacant for five years and in REVAL2015 was given a NAV of £84,900, which means business rates of £45,700 are payable per annum so it is hardly a surprise that the shutters are still pulled down five years later.

One does not need the detective skills of Hercule Poirot to work out that these retail units / offices will never be let until our politicians change business rates policy. This position is not unique to the likes of Newry, it is happening in every town and city in Northern Ireland, in some towns like Coleraine the position is much worse and I would advise all readers to check out the REVAL2015 NAV’s on the Land and Property Services website ( http://www.dfpni.gov.uk/lps/reval2015ni )for your local high streets to allow you to understand the levels of business rates demanded by the NI Assembly..

The rest of the UK and ROI are looking at ways to attract business start-up’s and SME’s into their Town and City centres to create vibrant successful communities, our politicians and their agencies are the only politicians in Europe other than Greece, delivering strategies to drive the few businesses that remain out of our town centres. The phrase ‘you couldn’t make it up’ springs to mind. The NI Assembly has also decided to focus its efforts since 2010 to securing 12.5% Corporation Tax for businesses that don’t even exist whilst completely ignoring the immediate needs of the ‘here and now’ SME sector in Northern Ireland in particular Business Rates reform.

What makes the position even more frustrating for the local business community, is all of our politicians are well aware of the problems the business ratepayers are facing, all MLA’s and MP’s have represented or been asked to represent local constituents and many have lobbied Land and Property Services on their behalf for business rates reductions but they have done nothing to change policy or the legislation. I regularly have been passed correspondence written by local MLA’s and MP’s referring to the range of support measures in place to help rate payers for example the 20% small business rates discount, but unfortunately the politicians fail to grasp that these reliefs are not enough as the NAV’s have been set far too high by Land and Property Services in the first instance which in turn means that the reliefs are far less generous than the business rates relief enjoyed by Scottish, English and Welsh rate payers.

The damage caused by high business rates also goes beyond pulling down the shutters of a retail shop or closing an office, they cause unemployment as jobs are lost, they prevent wage growth as ratepayers struggle with high overheads, they stifle business investment and expansion and destroy the value of assets as owning commercial property is now looked up as being a financial liability by most local Banks.. High business rates also destroy communities as the city and town centres deteriorate and Councils have to pick up the tab for vandalism, anti-social behaviour, street regeneration etc. which …you’ve guessed it requires even more rates to repair, reinstate and enhance our town and city centres.

Economic Parity with the rest of the UK?

The Northern Ireland politicians are constantly banging on about achieving economic parity with the rest of the UK and ROI and their lobbying for 12.5% Corporation Tax is well documented. The one thing you never hear them talk about is how much more expensive it is for a commercial businesses to trade in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland businesses have to pay depending upon the Council catchment area anywhere from between 51.66 and 59.5 pence in the pound compared with 48.2 pence in the England. What this actually means is some Northern Ireland commercial businesses can pay paying up to 20% more business rates than a comparable business in England located in exactly the same premises, and this before even taking into account all the other factors that add to the costs of doing business in NI (and would require another 10,000 words to document).

For me what puts it all in perspective, is that it is now possible to rent a shop in the East End of London, with significantly lower business rates than similar business premises located in Northern Ireland.

So what can be done to fix the problem?

Our politicians need to understand that the businesses of Northern Ireland are happy to pay rates, but our politicians and civil servants also have to acknowledge and accept that the business rates payable have to be fair and reasonable and linked to profitability of the individual businesses. The following proposed solutions could make a real difference to the recovery of our City, Town and Village centres:-

  • Land and Property Services could be directed to be less aggressive in their NAV assessments and revise the majority of NAV’s to the rents actually payable on the property rather than selectively choosing over rented deals that were struck at the top of the property boom as their supporting evidence.
  • The ‘rates’ poundages set by the various councils means we have 11 different levels of business rates across Northern Ireland. Simply put there should be only ‘poundage’ for the whole of NI and it should be capped at the level it is England and Wales.
  • Charity shops should pay 50% business rates as unpalatable this may sound to many of you.
  • Consideration should be given to extending some form of business rates to the agriculture sector who on the whole are exempt from business rates.
  • A small business rates relief scheme should be introduced which as a minimum requirement, should be as competitive as any of the schemes in the rest of the UK.
  • The occupancy levels of all high streets for actual ‘business rate payers’ should be measured for every city, town and village in Northern Ireland and any streets with occupancy levels of less than 50%, should be rates exempt for new businesses starting up on these high streets for the next three years and a 50% immediate reduction given to the other ratepayers located on these streets.
  • There should be mechanisms put in place to give certain loss making business a ‘rates holiday’ and ‘business rates discounts’ to enable their business to financially recover.
  • Business Rates for empty premises should be abolished were the owner has made reasonable efforts to market and lease the premises at below market rental levels but has been unable to do so.

CONCLUSION

Business rates reform is at least five years overdue and is easily the single greatest decision of economic policy that needs addressed by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s we watched our towns being destroyed by bombs and bullets and we eventually made peace. In 2015 our towns are now being destroyed by politics. Our politicians might well pat themselves at a job well done in bringing in a plastic bag tax and banning prostitution, but they have done literally nothing to support the local business community and they should be held to account for this failure.

Our politicians need to act urgently to deliver policies that will act as a catalyst to kick start economic activity in our City and Town Centres.

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  • Ernekid

    Significantly Jeremy Corbyn is the only politican talking about how to solve this.
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/15/jeremy-corbyn-pledge-pro-business-back-entrepreneurs

    We need a system that works for our SMEs not the faceless mega corporations

  • OneNI

    Have to agree with 90%+ of what you say Patrick. Local parties just dont get it. We need a pro business party such as the Conservatives!
    It has to be said the other mistake local politicos have made was to grant planning permission for far too much retail in 1990s and 2000s – and especially out of town.
    And recent decisions in Strabane and Newry absolute insanity.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Excellent post, this is sheer lunacy.
    Ay chance you could compare Belfast business rates to the rates of major cities around the world?

  • Gopher

    The problem with rates is the councils which invent jobs to employ friends and family. I get a glossy council magazine through my door that serves absolutely no purpose except creating non jobs. But my favourites are every single council replacing footpaths! And at a time of austerity, special mention to the proliferation of useless signs like “Mourne Coastal Route”. Flushing money

    As for retail, well you get free delivery with Amazon, the stuff is cheaper, you dont have to pay for parking or even finding it! You dont have to pick your way through Belfasts archiac traffic system or the provincial towns one way systems . You dont have to worry about getting 3 penalty points for no reason other than the police cant catch criminals, your car door dented in unfeasibly narrow parking spaces for corpulent overwieght unproductive drivers, your car stolen, getting fined for being in a bus lane for buses with no passengers onboard. ludicrous roadworks, imported beggars, crap buskers using ampified sound, mad preachers again using amplified sound, fending off militant charity (sic) workers. Parades, demonstrations and other such nonsense. Instead of having out of town shopping lets have out of town demonstrating.

    Nope Retail has gone especially in town centres and that the blame of that lies squarely with elected representation not coming to grips with the challenges of the 21st century

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Well said. Politicians are fond of defending regulations, taxes and fiefdoms – yet seem to overlook the damage that taxes cause and the economic aberrations that are sustained by tax.

  • Newton Emerson

    Am I correct in thinking that half of business rates go to Stormont, like domestic rates? Because if so this is going to be a tough campaign. Rates make up 5% of Stormont’s departmental budget (the other 95% is the block grant) and it’s the only ‘tax’ of any significance it has. It’s also got used to the idea of it as electorally painless, because most people blame their council for it.

  • Ernekid

    The Conservatives aren’t pro-business, they are pro-corporatist. They couldn’t give a damn about the working man running a small business in a small market like NI.

  • Ernekid

    Did you find your rant therapeutic?

  • chrisjones2

    The bottom line is someone has to pay for all the Services.

    Ministerial cars, expenses and well polished seats don’t come cheap. And if a few of the little people go bust, whats the problem? Its just progress.

    But the reality of many of these businesses is that they are no longer viable in an internet age. We dont want / need to buy white goods, basic clothes, high mark up fashion, videos, DVDs, computers, phones, etc etc in local shops. The service argument also no longer applies

    If it aint profitable just don’t do it. Think differently. Why do you need a shop to sell what you want to sell? Ask the Landlord to cut the rent – if you cannot pay the rates noone can

    These arguments are like stone age politicians in England in the 1980s bemoaning the loss of pits – now they wouldn’t have them back

  • chrisjones2

    Jeremy Corbyn is spouting utter nonsense that is economically illiterate and will stoke inflation Dont be gulled

  • chrisjones2

    …but Geoff what will they cut that doesn’t have 5 votes attached to ut and we cannot possibly lose 5 votes

  • chrisjones2

    …and you think Labour do?

  • Brian O’Neill

    Bars, restaurants, hotels all kinds of businesses are affected not just rates. Also while you may not like shopping it is still the number one leisure activity. Stand in Castle Place on a Saturday afternoon you will see that most people still rather like physical shops.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Bit negative. People like shopping. Pop into town for a new shirt, you get to try them on there and then which you can’t do online. Get a bite of lunch, then pop in for a pint. Sounds good to me.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Well the fact London is cheaper should tell you all you need to know.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    No doubt, but if you could add Sydney, Tokyo, New York or a few of the big names on to the list as well then amplifies the ridiculousness of it all.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I confess my ignorance on this matter.

    IF a shop is designated to pay rates of 10k a year (for example) and that shop goes bust then who is responsible for the rates?

    Does the landlord have to pay them?

  • Brian O’Neill

    I would not think so, but if a shop is empty then the landlord has to pay rates at 50% level. Can those in the know explain why with so much vacant property landlords will not do deals with tenants? You would think they would want someone in to help pay the rates bill.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I know but not really a useful comparison. Better to compare with Edinburgh and other regional towns and cities.

  • murf61

    The picture accompanying this excellent article shows what used to be Woolworths back in the day. When I was a teenager growing up in 70s/80s Newry, this was a social hub, for shoppers and teenagers alike. Hill street was packed every day (except Sundays!) but now it is pretty dead. The chain store shops are now in the 2 shopping centres and 1 retail park. Instead of encouraging more shops back into the heart of the city, the Council has approved yet another out-of-town retail park. Where’s the logic in this? It’s killing the local retailers and destroying the city centre. Very sad to see.

  • salmonofdata

    I think we can chalk this up as another thing Northern Ireland leads the world in. The total collected from non domestic rates in NI is £600m, whilst total GDP is (I think) £29.2 bn. This means non domestic rates are 2.1% of GDP, the joint highest (with Israel) in the OECD. Across the UK the average is 1.6%, the OECD average is 0.5% and in Germany business rates are only 0.3% of GDP.

    So in Northern Ireland we fleece small businesses more than any other economy in the developed world. Madness.

  • barnshee

    “I would not think so, but if a shop is empty then the landlord has to pay rates at 50% level. Can those in the know explain why with so much vacant property landlords will not do deals with tenants? You would think they would want someone in to help pay the rates bill.”

    Add overheads / staff costs -(employers pay up to 13.8% NICS on staff wages) I know small business` with OVERHEADS of £500/£600 a week before they sell or produce an item– they are hanging on by their fingernails.

    The high streets are littered with businesses defeated by rates bills high rents

  • Dan

    When Arlene Foster sniggered as Ryanair left Belfast, it told me all I needed to know about the ability of local politicians to deliver the right conditions for business to thrive here.
    That small local companies haven’t a chance is no surprise.

  • chrisjones2

    Yes at 50% of the normal level while premises are vacant but there may be further reliefs if they are retail premsies

  • chrisjones2

    Because they wantt to knock them down and build house / apartments

  • Ian James Parsley

    Patrick

    Great piece. Glad to see someone is thinking.

    Yet again, we have here clear evidence that local parties all want something for nothing. I have long warned that, when it comes to the crunch, the local parties will find reason not to proceed with a reduction in corporation tax.

    The evidence is in your piece. If the local parties were serious about helping local businesses, they would long ago have reduced business rates – something which, obviously, would have similar effect.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Isn’t it a bit mischievous to write an article about how bad the rates are without mentioning what the property rents and other non-employment costs (water, electricity etc) are ?

    If there is a reduction in rates, won’t competing retail premises (especially in competitive spaces such as Belfast city centre) simply bid up the property rent ?

  • chrisjones2

    ,,,I agree….and you pay a premium price for that …which is why the can afford to pay the rates

    But we need far fewer of those venues

  • Catcher in the Rye

    It doesn’t tell you all you need to know. What’s the rent paid by a retail premises in London ?

    I’ll bet, all other things assumed equal, that the combined rent & rates in London being significantly higher than the rent & rates in Belfast.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Brian, for the same reason that the big airlines seldom give away their first class seats at a discount. The landlords feel they’re better off keeping the rent high and tolerating a few dry spots rather than dropping the rent and facing a longer term reduction in margin.

    Maintaining a higher price (and riding out the vacant periods) also serves to increase the exclusivity ie “keep the riff raff out”, ensures that the properties are only rented to high-margin tenants which in turn helps keeps the price high in the surrounding area in general.

    I’d bet money that there’s cartel activity going on in Belfast and other places too, ie the landlords all stay in touch with each other and there’s a wee pact going whereby they agree not to slash rents etc.

  • chrisjones2

    I totally agree. And food shops are an obvious example but Sawyers in Belfast is a good example. It used to sell (many years ago) generics like poultry fish etc . Now its a specialist and bloody good high end deli

  • chrisjones2

    ,,, and all the Orange Fleg shops, interpretative centres, etc are set up as ‘charities’ so are zero rated

  • Brian O’Neill

    Nope. The market sets rents, the government sets rates.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Some buildings have been vacant years.

  • chrisjones2

    Have a look along some of our main roads in Belfast. Like the Undead the developers have risen from their Graves and are grafting away on bijou developments of apartments with shops under

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I think that is a separate problem and a strategy is needed to deal with it. Sometimes there are reasons. For example, all the vacancies around North Street are to do with the long term plan for the area. There are other problems with landlords who own older, listed properties that they can no longer profitably maintain.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Market rates are an outworking of government policy around rent controls, planning and so on.

  • John Collins

    Well Chris were they as focused on closing down coal mines, and now GB are importing coal. We made similar mistakes with our last remaining sugar factory. You could not make some of this up but I suppose we deserve the politicians we get. Don’t me wrong. I despise the lot of them.

  • barnshee

    And that is a partial solution —apartments/housing+ shops will revitalise town centres -people will shop wher they live

    Some NI towns are like ghost towns after 6.00pm

  • Catcher in the Rye

    John, we’re importing coal rather than mining it for the same reasons we import so much else – because it is cheaper to do so.

  • chrisjones2

    These aren’t town centres ..arterial roads

  • chrisjones2

    Yes…but then its far better to let the market take the decisions on investment. I stick to Reganism

    “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

    or in the case of the DUP

    “I’m from the government and God sent me here to here to help”

  • chrisjones2

    …and less dangerous and there are many different types of coal and nowdays industry doesn’t need as much of the stuff we could dig out in the UK

  • notimetoshine

    In agreement with everything that’s been said here, but just two important corrections.

    1. There are nowhere near 26 charity shops in newry, 1213 Max and that’s stretching the category some.

    2. The Ethel Austin building you picture, it was announced quite some time ago to some fanfare that it would be redeveloped as a new office for first derivatives, a highly successful local tech firm.

  • Gopher

    Shops are now called showrooms, you try the shoes on in shop and buy them online a lot cheaper. A bite to eat if it entails a pint involves public transport and carting your shopping upon it. Not exactly the stress free utopia you describe.

  • Gopher

    Nope, I still am subsidising poor service through my rates. Towns and Cities should be user friendly. We have been running the show for twenty odd years now and bugger all to show except paintings covering derelict shop fronts, charity shops and closed pubs. We build houses in greenfields and there are town centres barren.

  • kalista63

    I wrote a long piece about how I used to support local shops like John Frazer over Topshop and miss those grand shops like Brands & Normans but Google crashed. Pity Disqis doesn’t save text like other servers do.

    Anyway, last week was my brother’s 60th and he’s a fisherman so I thought I’d get him something from a tackle shop. I haven’t fished in decades but knew all the old family owned fishing shops in Belfast. Well, they’re gone!

    Anyway, my partner remembered the wee shop on the Albert Bridges Road, Tightlines which is just as well as I wouldn’t go to Decathalon Sports, they’re shit. I walk in to the hall to meet a child gate, to stop a cracker dog running on to the road. While I was there, a few guys came in for tackle as the makrel was in. £7.99 he would say, throw me a fiver follow up with. At a losss as to what to get, the guy made a couple of suggestions and I settled on something. £27.99 but £25.00 will do.

    My point is, that’s shopping, that’s a proper business I left with an experience, manufacturing reasons to go back to that shop and I don’t and never will ever fish again. Imagine him trying to survive in the city centre even though he’d bring so much to the shopping experience.

  • Brian O’Neill

    One tip before you hit post right click in the box and select all then right click again and select copy. This will copy your text to the clipboard so your comment does not post you can paste the text in again.

  • willie drennan

    This is a very important piece by Patrick Murdock and many constructive comments to this as well. Clearly rates for small shops are far too expensive and rent probably is as well. But that’s not the whole problem.There needs to be a whole rethink on how to support local small business.

    The big campaign to lower corporation tax seemed to me to be more about benefiting large multi national corporations rather than trying to save small business. With Stormont policy as it is at the moment things are set to continue to deteriorate rapidly for our town centres. Many could be ghost towns in a decade.

    Not so long ago our town centres were full of small established businesses
    selling local produce, clothing, shoes and furniture from the local area. There shouldn’t really be any reason why we couldn’t get back to the situation where we once again would have a self-reliant, sustainable economy. Instead of importing goods produced from a form of slave labour in third world countries. It would also have benefits for tourism if we could demonstrate that Northern Ireland was developing a creative and novel strategy to deal with changing times in the world economy.

    All it would require would be a whole new creative approach to social and economic needs that didn’t involve sucking up to the big global corporations – some outside-the-box thinking from our political leaders at Stormont. Oh right! Oh well, just ignore everything I just said.

  • 23×7

    An Internet sales tax is required to level the playing field. A serious crack down on corporate tax avoidance would obviously help as well.

  • Gopher

    Why should the internet be taxed further your paying VAT on goods already. You cant tax the internet because our councils are greedy and we have riots/demonstrations/parades in town centres at the drop of a hat. Taxing the internet wont bring pubs back. Should we tax the Cathedral Quarter because its sucked up every drinker at the weekends? The principle thing keeping Belfast City Centre afloat is the Cruise Ships, we need to expand on that and get more punters which means scrapping passenger duty and lengthening the City runway and making Belfast the most visitor friendly city in the world.

  • 23×7

    I’ll attempt to answer your incoherent rant. We need an internet sales tax to level the playing field. Internet retailers don’t contribute to the provision of local services through business rates. Most don’t provide local employment. The bulk of their revenues go outside the local economy. An internet sales tax has been introduced in many states in the US.

  • As someone who is searching for a property for WabiSabi, a new Coworking Community and Space for Belfast, and someone who runs a current business, not dependent on grants and funding, I can assure you that business rates in the town centre are astronomical. Regularly I find great properties whose rates add 40%+ on top of the rental. This is simply not doable. I have business friends who’re thinking of quitting their business altogether, as they dread the annual rates hike, some in many tens of percent. This is not being negative (the topic is negative and can’t be made positive), or ranting. It’s just reality.

  • A pro-business party! Someone wake me up when that comes around!

  • Bedhead1157

    That didn’t work with the Apartments on Gt. Victoria St, nobody bought them and they were flogged off cheap to Oaklee for social housing, they’re rapidly getting a reputation as a City Centre version of Divis,

  • Allowing for six months rates free would certainly be a great help to many in this predicament.

  • Gopher

    Thought Luddites were an English phenomenon. We have already put town centres out of usefulness with high taxes and wastage now you want to attempt to do it to the Internet. Gotta love socialists

  • pulling the wool over our eyes

    I like this article as it offers solutions to a big and increasing problem. Rates is a major source of the problem, but I wouldn’t dismiss the issue of out of town development so quickly either. When ‘big box’ retail comes to a town it has been proven that there is a net reduction in jobs in that town due to the amount of shops that close down as a result. In England big supermarkets are made to locate in towns, not outside of them, hence supporting existing businesses, not replacing them. Newry is mentioned a bit here, and sure didn’t it just get permission to develop a new out of town complex last week? With lots of shops sitting empty in the town?

    A good exercise would be to work out the percentage of profit that the out of town retailers pay towards rates compared to those in the town centre. We are supporting the big boys when we should be giving the new businesses a foot up the ladder…

  • kalista63

    Than you.

    The essence of what I wrote was the sould and identity of Belfast’s retail history is erased and it now looks like any other UK city.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    True dat.

    I was disappointed to see that Delaneys finally gave way to a franchise cafe.

    If that doesn’t count as chipping away at local identity then I don’t know what does.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Do political party offices have to pay rates?

    Goose-gander sort of thing….

  • sadie

    Really good comprehensive article on non domestic rates in NI. LPS are ruthless in their pursuit of the rates they demand.They should be challenged about the legality of demanding rates when premises are not used and the owners do not avail of the very poor services they are being charged for.Most politicians, MLAS, civil servants etc do not seem to care what happens to local businesses which are said to be the lifeblood of the economy.Given the alleged involvement of politicians in the Nama saga, including several former Ministers of Finance, did LPS[Dept of Finance]bankrupt local businesses and if so which investors, foreign or otherwise benefited.

  • Reader

    In order to solve this problem you need to set up a locally based Internet retailer – bingo – local jobs and local rates. Rumour is, it’s dead easy because the playing field isn’t level…

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    How’s about a public list of mla’s who refuse to vote to lower rates?

    If they refuse then we’re free to vote then out next time round.

    If we vote them back in then it’s our own fault:

    “Vote Sideshow McBob? Well, i don’t like his Bart killing policy or refusal to challenge rates BUT he does want to get the flag back up. And that’s all that matters…”

  • aquifer

    Rates are also due on vacant property. Is this being collected or have the DUP let owners off, as another Tory subsidy for unearned income?

    Town centre rates do not reflect the social and environmental benefits of having these businesses present. And why charge rates on employment intensive businesses like cafes and hotels at all, when workers are already taxed via PAYE and VAT on their spending? What are the supermarkets, box stores, and shopping centres paying towards the new roads needed to bring their customers?

    Thanks Salmonofdata: “domestic rates are 2.1% of GDP, the joint highest (with Israel) in the OECD. Across the UK the average is 1.6%, the OECD average is 0.5% and in Germany business rates are only 0.3% of GDP.”

    Business people who clear off to somewhere warmer with fewer flags are blameless.

  • Robert Smith

    Very late to this thread, but just as a footnote to its own footnote, to say ”Our politicians might well pat themselves at a job well done in bringing in a plastic bag tax and banning prostitution”, I rather doubt there is much back patting to be done, particularly on the prostitution issue.

    Stormont introduced criminalisation entirely against the expressed wishes of current sex workers (98% of whom opposed it), against PSNI advice, against actual evidence on sex trafficking (not a single case prosecuted in NI last year), against Amnesty International and the World Health Org and both Westminster and the Scottish Assembly, both of whom rejected criminalisation last year.

    Criminalisation was in fact propelled by a rather bizarre alliance of the moralist DUP and the Magdalene order descendants of Ruhama.

    Also worth mentioning that almost £2 million was spent on this non-issue (there are by PSNI reckoning less than 20 street workers in total in NI), which could have certainly gone to something more useful.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Out of interest how much did those ‘fake shop front’ campaigns cost?

    Would it really have been much more expensive to give the buildings in question a few months of rate relief in the hope that a real butcher’s shop might reopen rather than affixing a poster to the shop front that depicts a butcher’s shop?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Houl’ on a cotton-pickin’ minute; is this accurate?!
    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/in-pictures-8m-spent-on-fake-shop-fronts-in-northern-ireland-30196699.html

    Why not just gave 8m pounds worth of rate-relief and let businesses grow a bit?