Friday 28 July 2017

Major revamp of country's commercial rate system to reclaim main streets from takeaways

Many smaller communities have bemoaned the fact that their once vibrant main streets are being taken over by just one type of business. Stock Image
Many smaller communities have bemoaned the fact that their once vibrant main streets are being taken over by just one type of business. Stock Image
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Towns and cities will soon have bespoke taxes tailored to certain businesses, in a bid to revitalise the main street and prevent one type of shop from taking over.

Local Government Minister Simon Coveney is preparing for a major revamp of the country's archaic commercial rates system.

For the first time, local authorities will be given powers to slash rates for businesses under the bill being brought to Cabinet.

The powers being introduced by Mr Coveney will also see the introduction of different rate levels depending on the "business function".

This is to ensure there is not an over-abundance of similar outlets such as takeaways and fast-food restaurants in one area, sources say.

Many smaller communities have bemoaned the fact that their once vibrant main streets are being taken over by just one type of business.

Rates revamp: Simon Coveney plans major tax changes. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Rates revamp: Simon Coveney plans major tax changes. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The new legislation plans to streamline the rates system, encourage certain types of businesses into an area and make it easier for their owners to keep up with payments.

The most significant element of the plan is the introduction of a rates "alleviation scheme" which will give councillors the powers to reduce bills for businesses. It means thousands of businesses can hope for significantly reduced bills.

"I want a system that creates a level playing field to support commercial rates payers throughout the country, whether they are small start-ups, SMEs or large multinationals," Mr Coveney told the Irish Independent.

In another major change, there will be a removal of the requirement on ratepayers to pay their annual bills in two instalments.

This has been blamed for crippling small businesses, particularly in rural Ireland. Instead, businesses will now be able to spread out their costs throughout the year as part of the plan seen by the Irish Independent.

Commercial rates are paid by the occupiers of commercial premises and are central to the funding of local authorities, accounting for almost €1.5bn of their income each year.

However, the legislation governing the levying of commercial rates dates back to the early 1800s.

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Various amendments to the law since then have resulted in a situation where there are over 20 pieces of legislation relating to commercial rates, according to Mr Coveney's department.

The Cork South Central TD says the bill will consolidate the various pieces of legislation to make the rates system more straightforward for businesses and local authorities.

It will also be seen as a major play for business support as Mr Coveney positions himself ahead of a likely Fine Gael leadership tilt, once Taoiseach Enda Kenny steps down.

As part of the overhaul, there will also be improved powers for local authorities to collect rates that are outstanding.

For 2015, the most recent year when audited financial data is available, local authorities collected 82pc of rates levied.

"A modernised rates framework is good news for all users of local authority services and offers a real opportunity for local authorities to improve the quality of those services," Mr Coveney said.

"Local authorities are key enablers of local economic development and I intend to give councillors further new powers to look at options such as rates alleviation to support specific economic activities or particular areas, taking account of their own local circumstances."

Irish Independent

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