Industry calls for rural town investment

rural town investment

During an extensive meeting Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster appealed to politicians for further investment for towns such as Enniskillen.

On the other side of the table sat Michelle Gildrew MP, Jemma Dolan MLA, Arlene Foster MLA, Rosemary Barton MLA, Fermanagh Council chief executive Brendan Hegarty and Enniskillen BID manager Noelle McAllon. Investment is long overdue, according to Neill.

“We need the government to move now. We have the rates issue, which is crippling small retail businesses, and tourism could start to lag because the government is standing still. That is going to hurt our small, independent retailers.”

“We need to keep our small retailers up and running,” he says.

His counterpart at Retail NI is equally as bullish.

“Investing in our rural towns should be on the list of key infrastructure projects, alongside the A5, A6, York Street Interchange and the Belfast Transport Hub,” says joint release distributed by Retail NI. “Enniskillen has very strong retail and hospitality sectors and could be stronger still if we get the right changes to Business Rates, Skills and Taxation.”

The meeting took place over the 15th and 16th of February, and is part of a series of meetings in which Roberts and Neill will also be speaking with the Westminster government to encourage an active approach to stimulating investment in the Northern Ireland’s rural towns.

Neill says there’s no target amount for the investment, but providing the right amount of investment to allow independent retailers to thrive in town communities is crucial for the economic health of the country.

“We need to identify how to drive the economy and that starts with our smaller retailers,” he says.

The meetings were constructive, but without a stable, forward-looking government in place small businesses will feel the impact of a lack of progress around much-needed infrastructural developments.

“They were business-like and constructive, but we need to get a proactive government in place in Stormont with the right people making the right decisions for the small retailer that keeps this country on the move,” says Neill.

Belfast and Derry/Londonderry are pushing for so-called “City Deals” – which would see infrastructure investment flow into the urban parts of the country, but Roberts and Neill believe “it is vitally important that we do not forget the importance of rural towns like Enniskillen and ensure they get a fair deal from Government too.”

It comes at a time when other trade organisations are putting pressure on governments to support independent retailers. In mid February, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN), a body representing around 15,000 independent retailers, filed a report to parliament in Westminster highlighting the problems that government needs to address.

“The message that we need to get over loud and clear is that independent retailers need the government’s help if we are to operate profitably and contribute fully to the economy,” said NFRN president Linda Sood.

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