Business leaders warn of closures if rates are hiked
Businesses will close if rates and car park charges in Northern Ireland are hiked, traders claim.
One scenario considered by civil servants examines the possibility of raising revenues through increasing the property tax paid by most firms and axing a relief scheme for small businesses.
A 10% rates rise is among options contained in a Finance Department briefing paper.
Business leaders representing restaurants and shops said: "Make no mistake, if these proposals are to be accepted by ministers, we will see a significant amount of our members closing and the unemployment figures increasing."
A new finance minister or direct rule minister from Westminster would not have to follow any of the scenarios.
But he or she would still face budget constraints addressed in the briefing paper.
Retail NI and Hospitality Ulster, which represent small businesses, restaurants and pubs, met senior officials from the department.
Chief executives Glyn Roberts and Colin Neill said: "These proposals would disproportionately impact on both the hospitality and retail sectors and our town and city centres.
"The central focus of the Programme for Government is economic growth - these proposals to hike rates and car parking will have the opposite effect."
The rate relief scheme covers more than 26,000 businesses, the briefing paper said.
It was introduced in 2010 as a temporary support measure at a time of economic downturn. Most ratepayers get a 20% discount.
Mr Roberts and Mr Neill said: "To even suggest as an option to substantially increase business rates is a non-starter. Far from increasing business rates, we need to see them decreased."
They added: "What makes this proposal even more unacceptable is that the Department of Finance also suggests not replacing the small business rate relief scheme, which would be a double whammy for our members and the wider small business sector."
A Finance Department spokeswoman said the briefing used purely illustrative scenarios and none were preferred.
"They are not proposed budget settlements and no decisions have yet been taken. It will be for ministers to decide on the way forward.
"This remains an information-gathering process and the final budget decided by ministers could be different from any of the three scenarios presented."