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Armagh businesses tell of ‘frustration’ and ‘uncertainty’ as rates bills land

'Other businesses in the UK have been shielded but, because we have no Assembly, the money that could help us with rates is in limbo.'

Scotch Street, Armagh

Businesses across the ABC Council area have expressed concerns surrounding rates bill rises as many feel the pinch.

In February, ABC Council agreed an average increase in the district rate for 2023-2024 which meant an increase of approximately £30.50 per month, or £366 a year, for an average sized business within the borough.

The council said that the increase reflected the “stark reality of significant increases in operating costs due to unprecedented inflationary pressures, rising energy, contractual and staffing costs, and the wider ongoing economic uncertainty”.

The sentiment on the ground in Armagh’s busy high street is one of mixed emotions, with many businesses having braced themselves for the rises. However, this does not necessarily mean that things are any less tough.

Kate Staunton, of the Zest Natural Health Store on Upper English Street, says that her rates bill has experienced “quite a jump”, having gone up by £800.

“Considering the challenges we’re facing I can’t believe they’ve increased it,” she said, adding that price hikes around foodstuffs and products have made things more difficult.

Just around the corner on Scotch Street, Aidan McCrystal of McCrystal’s Opticians says that while rates rises are “not more than we expected”, the current situation is nevertheless “frustrating”.

“Like everything, we just have to adjust,” he said. “We expected a rates rise so it wasn’t a surprise and we haven’t raised our prices.

“Other businesses in the UK have been shielded but, because we have no Assembly, the money that could help us with rates is in limbo.

“There’s money in the coffers to help businesses. It’s frustrating that we can’t benefit.”

The Postmistress of Barrack Street Post Office told us that her rates bill is one of her “biggest expenses”.

She said: “It’s quite tough in the way that things are, such as with stamps going up. It can be difficult to keep going.”

On the other side of the borough, these attitudes have been echoed in Banbridge, where business leaders have been fearing a looming “perfect storm” due to high costs.

Alliance Party Councillor for Banbridge, Brian Pope, said: “Local businesses are now receiving their rates bills and realising the scale of the increases. The increased costs to their businesses are due to a number of factors, including the removal of business rates relief.

Brian Pope, Alliance Party Councillor for Banbridge

“They are upset that English and Welsh hospitality, retail and leisure companies are still receiving rates relief whilst they are not. In some cases they are worried about their company’s future, and some have expressed their upset that Stormont is not sitting, and can’t try and address these serious issues.

“Business leaders have previously expressed concern of a ‘perfect storm’ coming due to higher energy costs, general inflation and the potential business rates increases.

“I am concerned about the potential impact that these latest increases, together with other inflationary pressures, could have on local jobs in the area.”

He added: “Therefore, on behalf of Banbridge businesses, I am calling on all local trade bodies to come together, in solidarity, to expressive their concern on the scale of the business rates rises in Northern Ireland and to directly call upon Stormont to set aside their current differences and address the concerns of hard-working local businesses.”

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