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Part of Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:45 am on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 11:45 am, 22nd November 2016

Go raibh maith agat as an cheist. I thank the Member for his question. The House knows that I am an advocate for local councils and for increased powers for them, a fact that has been in the news recently. I believe that they are great partners. There are now 11 ambitious councils with very strong growth plans for the future. When the measures are implemented, they will immediately create a nice little windfall for councils. They will benefit by an extra £10 million, which perhaps they will use to borrow additional money, improve services or invest in their council areas. Think of the money that Belfast City Council spends on the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre. I know that, similarly, there are plans for the relocation of the Visitor Information Centre in Derry. Belfast City Council puts money into its convention centre, the Waterfront Hall and other facilities. Those are really focused on tourism and trying to grow the economy by bringing in visitors. Now we say to them, with the new rate relief measures, that we are also focused on hospitality.

I will mention one other measure announced today, and that is about trying to convert some retail premises into accommodation. It still pains me to walk through Belfast city centre, in particular, and to see premises above shops that are not used, are just empty, and in which people could live. Also, in some of our towns and villages, there are retail spaces that are not coming back, and they, too, could be converted into accommodation to help people live in town or village centres and, in the case of Belfast, the city centre. I think that those are big benefits to the councils, but we can magnify and multiply them if councils work closely with us as we implement those measures.