Aodhán Connolly, Director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said:

“It is very positive to see the Executive bring forward a new and comprehensive Programme for Government.

“Our industry is primed to work with the Executive in a collaborative fashion to support many aspects of the proposed Programme for Government outcomes including investing in jobs, skills, communities, the environment and creating export opportunities to grow the economy. Retail already employs over 70,000 people, and buys around a quarter of all agri-food produced in Northern Ireland as well as directly delivering on a sizable proportion of the key indicators outlined in the Programme for Government. And we can do more.

“However our industry faces considerable business cost headwinds, many of which are policy driven, which deter investment. We would urge the NI Executive to do whatever it can through the Programme for Government and associated Budget to reduce the escalating cost burden on our members operating in Northern Ireland. The current situation where our industry forms 12% of the economy but pays 22% of business rates is simply untenable.

“We commend the aim to better support priority sectors, but we’ve yet to hear a convincing explanation as to why the retail industry isn’t also deemed a priority sector given the critical role it plays in delivering jobs, commercial investment, opportunities for indigenous producers and devolved tax receipts.”