Ulster Unionist Finance Spokesperson, Dr Steve Aiken MLA, has said that a review of the non-domestic rating system in Northern Ireland is long-overdue but has questioned the point of the latest announcement given any changes will only be a matter for a future Finance Minister and Executive to decide upon. He has also questioned how the latest announcement from the Department of Finance will be any different to the review that ended in 2016.
Steve Aiken said:
“There is no doubt that a major root-and-branch reform of the non-domestic rating system across Northern Ireland is badly needed. I have repeatedly said that the current system is simply no longer fit-for-purpose, especially as it has failed to reflect the many significant changes that have taken place across our high streets and town centres. The retail and hospitality sectors in particular have been waiting a long time for meaningful reform so the announcement from Sue Gray has to be welcomed.
“We must remain mindful however that a previous Northern Ireland Executive also sought responses on a review of the non-domestic rating system. It even ran a major 12 week public consultation exercise that only ended in January 2016. Effectively nothing came out of that review and so business owners will be justified in being highly sceptical about this latest announcement.
“Frustratingly the Department of Finance has acknowledged that the best that this latest review could achieve is simply to provide up-to-date and relevant advice to any incoming Finance Minister, and to input into the direction of any future Executive’s Programme for Government. Unless the latest round of political talks make some unexpected breakthrough, there is a real danger that this will simply represent another missed opportunity to support local businesses.
“The Secretary of State should make a commitment that regardless of the outcome of the talks, the rating system across Northern Ireland will be transformed.”