Rating Policy

Part of Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:30 am on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 11:30 am, 22nd November 2016

I thank the Member for his question. I do not know whether my next appearance will be insightful or entertaining, but I am looking forward to getting back in. I know that the Finance Committee has a very busy agenda. The Member, and anyone who has served for longer on the Finance Committee, will know that there have been torturous attempts at some stages to try to really get to grips with this. How do you get the balance right? We need to raise rates to fund our services, but, at the same time, we do not want rates to be punitive and deter business. That is not always easy.

I have looked at the other models. In particular, you will know that in England last year they removed rates for properties below £10,000 NAV. I think that up to half a million businesses may have been involved in that, and they could fund that. We really cannot afford to give people 100% rate relief at that level. We do not have the rates base and the property base compared with the power of the south-east of England, the power of Heathrow Airport and the power of London. We do not have that rates base. What I am proposing here for the retail, hospitality and tourism link businesses that fit the criteria will make a real difference. I envisage those that have a NAV of less than £10,000 getting 50% off their rates, which is an increase on what was there previously and will make a real difference.

The Member and I start out on the same basis that we want to create a system that will really change the landscape for retail and hospitality. In these matters, we do not go to the Executive first and then have the Executive tell the Assembly what to do. I am coming to the Assembly. You are absolutely right that there has to be more detail. I have to go to the Committee. I have no doubt that I will be bidding for, and I am confident that I will receive, the support of Executive colleagues. However, we cannot put the cart before the horse. I think that we are going the right way about this.

Replicating what England did would blow a £60 million hole in our finances, and we just cannot afford to do that, but I am sympathetic to the businesses in smaller towns, some of which you represent. I have been in Comber, Dromore and places like that, where I see too many empty properties. This will make a real difference to retail and hospitality businesses in those areas.