One of NI’s most successful retailers has warned that a scheme to help the industry is leaving local chains at a disadvantage to other parts of the UK.
In the rest of the UK, retailers can get a grant of £25,000 or £18,500 for every shop they operate.
In NI each retailer can only get one grant of £25,000, even when it operates multiple shops.
Pete Boyle, of Argento, said that anomaly has brought his business to the brink of administration.
Mr Boyle started his jewellery business as a street stall and grew it into a UK chain, though most of its shops are still in Northern Ireland.
He said the £25,000 grant he has received in Northern Ireland amounts to just £1,000 per shop, meaning other businesses with just one shop are proportionately better supported.
“Our neighbour is getting £25,000 and we’re sitting on the same high street and we’re getting £1,000. We just don’t think it’s equitable,” he said.
In England and Wales, retail chains can get £25,000 per shop, up to a limit of of just under £700,000.
In Scotland, the first shop gets a £25,000 with £18,500 for additional shops.
Northern Ireland ‘Huge disadvantage’
Mr Boyle said he can not understand why Stormont has decided to do things differently.
“Who made this decision? Why was it made? How are meant to solve the problem of landlords demanding rent now?” he said.
He added that revising the scheme to bring it into line with Great Britain is now a matter of urgency.
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“That saves our business entirely. It means we can go forward and take a period of collapsed sales.”
Stephen McCammon, who runs Menarys fashion, faces the same issue.
Menarys is a Northern Ireland-only chain and he said these businesses are now at a big disadvantage.
“An awful lot of Northern Ireland high streets are UK chains that have perhaps 10% of their portfolio here and the rest in Great Britain.
“They’re getting a much, much higher level of support across their portfolios in England, Scotland and Wales.
“It’s the locally-owned mini chains, of which there are a number, who are only getting their support here who are at a huge disadvantage.”
The Department for the Economy said it is trying to use limited funds to help a broad range of businesses.
“The minister is seeking to ensure the funding available for economic intervention reaches as many businesses as possible,” a spokesperson said.
“A decision was taken, at this stage, to restrict businesses with multiple premises to one payment so support could be offered to all potentially eligible businesses.
“While recognising the financial pressures on companies such as this, the minister is also aware that there are many businesses across Northern Ireland which have not been eligible for the two schemes launched to date and is looking at how targeted support can be made available to them.”
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