Rates reform needed to stop high street decline

I recently tabled an adjournment debate in the Assembly, during which I made a number of proposals on small business rates reform – highlighting the folly of lobbying for a change in corporation tax while placing an unsustainable rates burden on existing businesses.

Many small businesses feel the Assembly is ignoring the reality of what is happening on our high streets and sidestepping the decisions that need to be made to bring entrepreneurs and vibrancy back to our high streets. There are vast disparities in rates bills here and of comparable businesses in the Republic or in Britain.

Our economic growth is being suffocated by high rates. Banks are not lending, employment opportunities are being lost and entrepreneurship is being stifled.

I accept that it is unrealistic to propose a reduction in rate income, which totals over £1 billion without complementary revenue raising measures and have made a number of suggestions on this front.

Parties, including my own, are united in demanding that Westminster devolve the power to reduce Corporation Tax to attract more foreign direct investment. However, obsessing on what revenue we might raise through a 12.5% Corporation Tax rate is building castles in the air if we ignore rates reform, which is something which is within the power of the Assembly to do now.

I welcome the launch of the DFP consultation on rates reform and hope the Finance Minister will consider the proposals outlined in the debate.