Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton
Recently appointed Finance Minister Simon Hamilton discusses the challenges for independent businesses and looks ahead to helping build a new economy…
In the current Programme for Government the Northern Ireland Executive has made it clear that its number one priority is ‘Growing the Economy’.
To enable us to deliver on this priority we need to ensure that our towns and cities support and contribute to the economic and social well being of Northern Ireland as a whole.
Our independent traders have been at the sharp end of both social and economic changes that have been increasing at a fast pace.
Shop closures and the loss of many big brand retailers has been an unfortunate feature of the economic downturn. I see it in my own constituency and I see it in other constituencies I have visited in my capacity as Finance Minister. In fact, the retail store where I had my first job is a recent victim of the recession.
It is not simply the economic downturn that is causing such difficulties. The retail industry is undergoing a fundamental shift in the way people shop for goods and services. Online stores and big retail outlets are taking an increasing share of consumer spending.
Whilst there are many encouraging signs that the economy is entering recovery – falling unemployment, rising employment, increasing business activity and an improving housing market – times remain tough for many individuals as well.
As Minister with responsibility for business rates I am determined to do what I can to help create a business environment that encourages local enterprise.
The Executive has already done much to support our businesses through the rating system. More than 50 per cent of business ratepayers in Northern Ireland now receive some form of relief through the rating system.
Almost 25,000 business premises get at least 20 per cent small business rate relief, part paid for by the large retail levy and this relief has been extended until 2015. The regional rate here in Northern Ireland has been frozen in real terms throughout the budget period.
I believe that we have in place the right mix of policies that put business needs to the fore, while recognising that rates are there to help pay for essential public services and investment in infrastructure.
As we look forward to the future and explore the options for driving our economy one of the most important issues for us as a government is the devolution of corporation tax.
I, along with my Executive colleagues will continue to vigorously pursue the devolution of corporation tax powers, which, as we all know would have a transformative effect on our economy and a long term benefit for Northern Ireland.
I truly believe that as a region we have learnt from our economic crisis and we must be realistic and recognise that what we will achieve in the future will be very different from where we came from a few years ago. The new normal will be lower growth and less public spending.
The recession has seen many businesses suffer and many stalwarts of our economy have not survived. In spite of what we’ve endured and the challenges that remain, I am confident that the new economy we are building in Northern Ireland is being constructed on firm foundations.