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Northern Ireland fares worst in UK for retail performance and shop vacancies. Pearson May News Update - Tuesday 22 May
Pearson May news blog
Northern Ireland fares worst in UK for retail performance and shop vacancies
The number of shoppers in Northern Ireland fell by 4.7 per cent in the three months to April, figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have shown.
The reduction was driven by a strong decline in April of 15.1 per cent on the same month a year before. Shop vacancy rates also rose, with the number of empty shops rising to 16.6 per cent in April, up from 14.1 per cent in January. The figures indicate that one in five shops in Northern Ireland is now empty - the highest vacancy rate in the UK.
Retailers in the rest of the UK also suffered lower customer footfall (two per cent), blamed on a late Easter, additional bank holidays, bad weather and smaller disposable incomes.
The BRC's director general, Stephen Robertson, said: "Double digit declines in shopper numbers in April in almost every part of the UK and stubbornly high shop vacancy rates confirm how tough conditions are for customers and retailers."
He remained optimistic that falling inflation would boost spending, but warned 'a fundamental turnaround is some way off.'
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) is now turning to schemes such as Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in order to invigorate Northern Ireland's high streets.
Funded by local businesses, BID partnerships aim to improve and promote specific areas in need of regeneration, allowing businesses a say in which local improvements are undertaken.
Northern Ireland is the only country in the UK to have no BID legislation in place. There are currently 127 BIDs with most (55 out of 66) town centre BIDs attracting additional income above original investments.
Northern Ireland Retail Consortium director, Jane Bevis, said: "These figures show how much we need the Executive to legislate to make it possible to get Business Improvement Districts up and running quickly."
"BIDs are the perfect answer because they're able to respond to differing local needs. Retailers will happily put their hands in their pockets to support specific schemes which benefit their businesses as well as the local area where they're based," she added.
"Our high streets need action now. Legislation inevitably takes a while to put in place but we're not wasting time. The hope is we can encourage other businesses and local councils to match our enthusiasm for BIDs so they can be put into action as soon as possible."
While it is hoped shopping confidence will be boosted by public holidays around the Queen's Jubilee, the NIRC has now launched a discussion paper regarding BIDs. It is inviting views from retailers, local authorities, businesses and interest groups regarding BID schemes and how best to revitalise Northern Ireland's town centres.
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