Chamber tackles charges on businesses

BALLYMONEY Chamber of Commerce has hit out at the proposed introduction of plastic bag tax and on street parking charges stating ‘these are money making exercises at the expense of traders and customers’.

A delegation from the Chamber met with MLA Mervyn Storey recently to relay the concern of local traders about the impact on small businesses in Ballymoney of the proposed plastic bag tax. However the opportunity was taken to raise a number of issues also having an impact on the economy.

MLA Daithi McKay, the original sponsor of the private members bill on the bag tax levy, was invited to the meeting, but unable to attend, but offered to meet with Chamber representatives at a later date.

Representatives while accepting there are economic pressures on government budgets argued that in the present economic climate, to introduce a plastic bag levy and introduce on-street parking charges, on top of increased insurance, minimum wage, VAT and rates, was putting businesses under substantial pressure in a difficult economic climate and making their situation worse. There was a real fear that there would be business closures as a result.

Speaking at the meeting the Chamber President Winifred Mellet emphasised the large body of opinion against the 15p per bag tax.

She explained: “Local businesses are opposed to the apparent money making initiatives by the assembly through the bag tax and car parking charges aimed at bringing in income for their budgets. It is local businesses and customers that are paying the price.

“The retail association, environmental groups and businesses are opposed to the proposal, there was no evidence of benefits and it should be stopped as it will have a real impact on the local economy.”

She asked Mr Storey to relay the views of small businesses to the Environment Minister.

One chamber member argued: “These new money raising initiatives by the Assembly are the wrong things at the wrong time”, while another said “there is a lack of realisation by the Assembly of the difficulties small retailers are facing”.

The President also advised the meeting that following coverage of Chamber’s opposition to the plastic bag levy in local newspapers they had been provided with findings of research by the Environment Agency, commissioned by the government in 2005, but not yet published, which shows that plastic bags are actually greener than supposedly low impact choices. Information on the yet unpublished government research, which it is understood is still being peer reviewed, has been published in the Independent newspaper.

The Chamber representatives argued that the impact of the bill will include loss of jobs in the independent retail sector and packaging industry as well as increased cost for consumers. It is also understood that the bill would be costly to administer and enforce.

MLA Mervyn Storey undertook to convey the Chamber’s views to the Minister. He explained that the Assembly do not have tax raising powers and hence the bill is now being taken forward by the Department of Environment as an environmental issue. The Assembly had accepted the principle that there is going to be a levy introduced, but the nature and type of the levy is to be considered. The bill will have to go through committee stages in the new assembly. It would be some time before the proposal was finalised and modifications could be expected.

The Chamber also agreed to write to the DOE Minister, Edwin Poots, registering its concern at the proposal to introduce a plastic bag levy.

Also highlighting the introduction of on street parking charges in Ballymoney, an angry Chamber President continued: “This seems to be another money making exercise at the expense of traders and customers”.

She asked Mr Storey to convey the opposition of local businesses to this proposal.

Chamber representatives expressed their real fear that the impact of these charges will add further pressure on businesses already struggling in these difficult economic times.

The Chamber President added: “The DRD Minister needs to get a clear message that these charges are unacceptable and we oppose their introduction in our town. I call on town businesses and customers to lobby against these proposed charges. We need to ensure that this damaging initiative is withdrawn.”

Mr Storey MLA undertook to convey the concerns of local businesses to the Minister Murphy, confirming that the proposal would be the subject of a consultation exercise. He also alerted the meeting to concerns about the introduced of increased licence charges for Taxi Operators and that he had made representations on this.

Businesses or customers wishing to write to DRD Minister Conor Murphy, to register their opposition to the parking charges Private Office, Room 7-08, Clarence Court, 10-18 Adelaide Street, Belfast, BT2 8GB.