The reforming of Northern Ireland’s parliament marks the beginning of new attempts to raise the profile of retail issues, according to district president Judith Mercer. 

The country faced three years without a devolved government due to both major parties being unable to reach a power sharing agreement. This meant devolved issues such as agriculture, economic development, justice and policing could not be addressed. 

Mercer told betterRetailing: “I’m hopeful. We would usually have an annual reception in Stormont, it’s been such a long break that we’ll be rebuilding those relationships.” 

Asked about the legislative priorities of NFRN members in the country, the district president responded that business rates and crime would be high on the list.

All 74,000 non-domestic properties in Northern Ireland were revalued for the first time since 2015 earlier this month and will be used to calculate each retailer’s business rates for the year beginning in April.

While most retailers, especially large supermarkets, will see their bills fall, convenience stores are an exception, with many expected to receive increased rates. 

NFRN saves store owner from business rates debts

Belfast Centra retailer Donagh McGoveran told the BBC he’d received a 10% increase. “So much for supporting independent family businesses as promised throughout the rates review process,” he said. 

Mercer advised retailers to check if they are missing out on rate relief they are entitled to. She said: “A few years ago, we were advised to look into the small business rate relief for small post offices that is available in Northern Ireland. We had no idea it existed and it saved us 20% off our bills, there may be others out there who are paying too much.”

The district president added that she was due to attend a workshop on how to reduce business rates bills and would be able to share advice to members afterwards. 

On the issue of retail crime, she referenced recent ATM and other theft incidents that have led to staff being laid off and increased costs for security measures.

Though praising the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s response times, Mercer said more had to be done to make politicians aware of the impact of retail crime. 

District member Eugene Diamond experienced an attempted burglary last week in his store in Ballymena, causing significant damage to the property. “There needs to be greater penalties for those that commit crimes like this, or it’s not going to get better,” he said.

Read more on business rates and retail crime