Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has raised the issue of recent increases in business rates with the new DUP Finance Minister Arlene Foster.
Mrs Dobson, questioning the new Minister on her first day in office, asked what further measures or action will be taken to help the many small businesses who have received a sharp shock in their recent rates bills.
“For many, these rises stretch into thousands of pounds, and in some cases as much as a 300% increase on last year’s bill,” the Upper Bann MLA said.
“I have been approached by many local traders in recent weeks who have told me that, without help, they will struggle to afford this additional levy.”
Mrs Dobson has written to the Minister on behalf of each of these companies because of the issue’s serious implications on local jobs and investment.
In response to Mrs Dobson’s call for additional help, Minister Foster pointed towards the appeals process, and stated that any business ‘dissatisfied with any part of the new assessment’ should appeal as soon as possible.
“Given the sheer volume of contact which I have received from companies dissatisfied with their bills, I would be concerned that this will become a drawn-out and cumbersome process, weighed down by a considerable volume of appeals.
“Whilst the Minister is on record as saying that she wants the business rates system to be ‘fair’, that is not the experience of business owners who I have been speaking to in recent weeks.
“They cannot understand how their rates bills have risen so substantially from last year to this year - some by as much as 300%.”
She added: “I do not want to see these sharp shocks becoming fatal blows to local businesses in this area - that will inevitably lead to lost investment and lost jobs. What the Minister must remember is that a business which ceases to trade following unprecedented financial pressure cannot pay any rates at all.
“I have written again to the Finance Minister on the issue, to find out how many businesses have been left with higher rates bills have been left with higher rates bills following the recent revaluation, and will continue to work alongside local businesses to ensure that they can sustain and grow, and stand full-square behind those who have contact me as they proceed through the appeals process.”