Finance Minister Sammy Wilson

SAMMY Wilson has announced plans to extend Empty Retail Premises Relief scheme and the rates exemption for stand alone ATMs in rural areas.

They were due to end next March 2013 but will now be extended until the end of the current budget period in March 2015, subject to Assembly approval.

The Finance Minister also announced his intention to extend the current 18 month developer exclusion applicable under the Rating of Empty Homes for a further 12 months.

Speaking in the Assembly today, Sammy Wilson commented: “The Executive recognises the difficulties that our local businesses are facing and are committed to helping them in these challenging financial times.

“Earlier today I was pleased to have the opportunity to visit Home Restaurant to see how the value of the Empty Premises Relief has assisted businesses such as this. The opening of this restaurant has created 28 jobs.

“Northern Ireland has led the way with this innovative scheme and was the first devolved administration in the UK to introduce such an initiative; Scotland is now following in our footsteps. 52 businesses have benefitted from a 50% reduction on their rates totalling £143,000 since the introduction of this new rate relief in April 2012.

“As well as tackling the high number of shops in our town centres this scheme is also helping to create much needed employment in this difficult economic climate. I would encourage anyone thinking of setting up a business in an empty retail unit to consider applying for this concession. Just ask Land & Property Services and they will be happy to advise you about applying.”

During his statement the Minister also highlighted the assistance the Executive is providing for small businesses by extending the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme to include properties with a Net Annual Value of up to £15,000. This will see an additional 3,500 businesses benefitting from a 20% reduction on their rates.

Another measure which the Finance Minister intends to extend is the exemption of rates for stand alone ATMs in rural areas.

He said: “I am of the view that retaining ATMs in rural areas is important to ensure financial inclusion for rural communities, given the loss of other financial services in recent years. In addition research shows that cash withdrawn in rural areas is usually spent locally.”

He added: “I hope the extension of these rate reliefs and measures will provide much needed assistance to our local businesses in these difficult economics times.”

Glyn Roberts, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said: “Since the extension of the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme in April we have received positive feedback from members about the savings on their rates bills and how they have been re-invested back into their business.

“We are pleased that the Minister has once again listened to our views and extended the scheme which will benefit many more of our members in these challenging economic times.

“The Empty Premises Relief has also played a role in both supporting new start businesses and addressing the problem of vacant shops and buildings. It is excellent news that the scheme has helped to create 52 new businesses since April.”

Joe Jordan, President of Belfast Chamber of Commerce commented: “I think that the Minister’s offer of 50% reduction in the commercial rates bill during the first trading year is a fantastic way to promote investment in the city centre.

“It is great to see Home Restaurant taking advantage of this scheme. I would encourage any budding entrepreneur who is going to start up a business to investigate if the property they are going to occupy qualifies for the Empty Premises Relief scheme or indeed if you are preparing a business plan it would be worth considering a premises that has been vacant for 12 months or more.”

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