07 October 2014

The thing I truly dislike about politicians is that as winners they are insufferable and as losers they are even worse. The debate over Scottish independence has brought out the worst characteristics of the breed with limited factual argument visible for consideration. Wishing to remain part of a “united kingdom” was viewed as either being defeatist or allowing oneself to be intimidated by the scaremongers/business leaders who expressed valid financially astute viewpoints. Following the vote, it is suggested that the Westminster politicians will renege on their promises and that the SNP will claim that the Scottish people were duped. I have watched these proceedings from the viewpoint of a Northern Irish businessman knowing that whatever the outcome our own politicians will begin to postulate on whether a referendum on staying part of the UK should be considered. My answer is an emphatic NO.

Why is it that our politicians constantly seem to waste time and taxpayer resources on “the big questions” as opposed to doing their jobs and ensuring that public money is directed where it is needed? I am currently watching our elected representatives struggle with the concept of making budget cuts; we need £200m in savings between now and next May. Part of the problem, I am reliably informed, comes from some ministers missing their deadline for submission of departmental budgets and hence we now face a shortfall.

Working within the property sector I have become acutely aware of failings within the rates collection process where there is potentially £1bn of uncollected tax revenue, much of it now lost to our public sector as many occupiers no longer have the wherewithal, or are even still in business.

A landlord client of ours recently discovered when his retail tenant went into administration that the company had not paid rates in five years, and yet no enforcement action had been undertaken. The failed tenant had several retail outlets and owed rates on them all. Why do our politicians pursue landlords for vacant rates when actual occupiers seem to be able to avoid paying and little occurs to address this issue?

Encouragement is required in respect of our development sector; the removal of liability for vacant rates on new commercial development for two years post- completion would be a “no cost” incentive. We keep proudly announcing inward-investment opportunities for office-based jobs and yet we have effectively no available supply of quality accommodation. Only one new office building is currently under construction within the Belfast market. Surely our public sector can see the need to actively encourage development and assist by speeding up the statutory consents process?

In a burgeoning financial recovery the very last thing that Northern Ireland needs is for our politicians to become further distracted by debating any “go it alone” philosophies. Instead, get your job done, balance the books and stimulate growth. Any deviation towards a more radical debate will discourage the investors whom this province desperately needs if we are to achieve our full potential.

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