Northern Ireland rates relief scheme could be extended

A scheme designed to help businesses in Northern Ireland following the recession could be extended beyond 2015, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has hinted.

The Small Business Rates Relief Scheme offers some businesses discounts of up to 50 per cent on their annual bills.

Created in 2010 in response to the financial crisis, the scheme aimed to assist 16,000 businesses, costing the Northern Ireland Executive around £8 million per year.

Speaking at the Lisburn Chamber of Commerce, Mr Hamilton said:

"The scheme provided much needed support to businesses throughout Northern Ireland during a difficult economic period.

"The scheme is due to end in April 2015 but I am taking steps to evaluate the scheme in line with the Executive's Programme for Government. Preparatory work on the evaluation will start in the next few weeks."

Mr Hamilton also announced the continuation of another initiative designed to assist the construction industry.

The scheme, which gives rates relief on empty homes built speculatively during the property boom, will be extended by 12 months.

"Although the housing market is showing signs of recovery, the imposition of rates on builders holding stocks of unsold houses built speculatively during the housing boom will not help the recovery of the construction industry in Northern Ireland."