Alliance Finance spokesperson, Andrew Muir MLA, has called for the millions of pounds set to be returned by supermarkets to be used as part of a local recovery fund dedicated to supporting local jobs, skills and businesses.
Last week, a number of large national supermarkets and discounters announced that they would return the rates relief they received at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, based on their strong profitability throughout the year.
As a devolved matter, business rates are set separately across the devolved regions of the UK. All supermarkets in Northern Ireland benefited from a four month rates holiday covering April, May, June and July. The total value of the amount to be returned by supermarkets in Northern Ireland remains to be confirmed.
Mr Muir said “The decision by many supermarkets and discounters to return the rates relief they received is the right thing to do and to be commended. Those who traded strongly during the pandemic and have still not returned the relief ought to follow the lead set by others.
This is a potentially significant amount of money that will come back to the Northern Ireland Executive with Supermarkets having rates bills that run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds. To take just two examples, Tesco in Knocknagoney, Belfast and Sainsbury’s on the Strand Road in Derry~Londonderry pay over £1.2million per year between them.
While most supermarkets have remained profitable throughout the pandemic, this is in stark contrast to the vast majority of local businesses, for whom COVID-19 has been a disaster. Some business that have been excluded from support throughout the pandemic are only being offered assistance now, and for many it is too little too late. Others are still waiting.
With the return of the rates relief by the supermarkets, the Department of Finance has the opportunity to use that money to support the local businesses who need it most. The Department for Finance needs to be planning for this now actively engaging with local businesses and councils to see what would be of most help in kick-starting a local recovery in 2021.
This money could form part of an overall recovery fund, with local businesses being targeted for rates relief, and a discretionary support fund to make sure the Excluded aren’t left behind. Support from the Northern Ireland Executive has to be focused upon making sure that we have the jobs and the skills we need to build back better”.