Rating Policy

Part of Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:00 pm on 22nd November 2016.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 12:00 pm, 22nd November 2016

I will take the third question first. Yes, there will be no change to the agricultural rate reliefs.

Mr Allister, if you would like to bring suggestions about rural areas to Mr Brian McClure at my Department, I would welcome that. Responsibility for rural areas lies with another Minister, with whom I have discussed this. It would be nice to have another pilot for rural areas outside Belfast. We may do so in the time ahead. This was the bite of the issue that we could take at this time. I mentioned the need to do something for smaller towns and villages, although I was not thinking of places as big as Ballymoney; I was thinking of some of the small coastal villages and towns, for example. If you have any suggestions on that, please bring them forward. You should not think that because we have one pilot, we cannot have another.

I envisage a rates empowerment zone as being somewhere where, for example, the pioneers and champions of the EastSide Partnership, EastSide Arts, will tonight open C S Lewis Square. They could go to a potential investor and say, "We now have special status under the rates system, so, if you have a new business here, you would get 50% rate relief. Instead of paying 100%, you would pay 50%".

This is for at least three years, perhaps five, so there is a bit of certainty and a reason to attract someone to the area. However, it is also for existing businesses: we need them to expand and invest more. We want to transform the area in which they are based. It does not work by passing legislation alone; it does work by having, for example, a full-time worker who, like the chair or chief executive of a BID, goes out and sells the advantages of an area and works out the best strategy to build on this. It is another tool in the toolbox, for example, for the EastSide Partnership, the West Belfast Partnership, Féile an Phobail in west Belfast, EastSide Arts and other groups. I hope that, in that context, we will move swiftly into discussions with some of the other Departments and the council about how they can come in behind this idea.