Opinion: Bleak picture for retail in Kilkenny if nettle is not grasped soon

It's become clear there is a divide between different types of Ratepayers —or at least the perception of one, says Sam Matthews

Sam Matthews

Reporter:

Sam Matthews

Email:

sam.matthews@kilkennypeople.ie

RETAIL IS STRUGGLING

The businesses which rely on more traditional, local trade are suffering disproportionately from issues such as parking charges and online shopping

The recent meeting on the future of shopping in Kilkenny provided some interesting insights into how city centre retailers are faring, and their fears for the future.

What became clear is that there is a divide between different types of Ratepayers —or at least the perception of one. This seems to have been further reinforced by the fact that retailers, as a sector, came out ‘worse off’, so to speak, from the recent revaluation of Commercial Rates here.

The revaluation was completed in autumn of last year, and saw over 2,800 valuation certificates issued. While it has been pointed out that more than half of Ratepayers have experienced a reduction in rates (56.5%) than have received an increase (41%), this was not evenly borne out across different sectors, according to the council’s own figures.

For example, in the hospitality sector, 60% of Ratepayers saw a reduction in Rates. In the Office sector and Industrial sector, seven in ten businesses saw a reduction, while just 26% and 28% respectively saw an increase.

Compare that to Retail, where more than half of Ratepayers (54%) saw an increase, while only 43% actually saw a reduction.

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The council and the Valuation office say the purpose of the revaluation was not to increase Commercial Rates income but to distribute it more equitably. But tell that to small retailers trying to keep the doors open, who got increases.

One Ratepayer has claimed the Rates assessor pointed to the good condition of her shop as a reason for the higher Rates. It seems ludicrous that someone would be allegedly penalised for the excellent condition of a premises, having presumably expended effort and money working to keep the place in such a condition.

That some types of business have Rates taking turnover into account leads to the perception there is a two-tiered system at play. This is furthered by the fact that the tourism industry has held up comparatively well in recent years.

The 9% VAT rate is often credited with sustaining the vitality of that industry, and sentiments — from the Irish Hoteliers Federation at least — indicate the future Brexit-notwithstanding, is a bright one. We had more visitors here last year than ever before, and long may that continue.

It doesn’t tally with retailers’ experiences, however, with some of them testifying to a sharp decrease in footfall in recent years. The businesses which rely on more traditional, local trade are suffering disproportionately from issues such as parking charges and online shopping.

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Based on some of the social media reaction, changing people’s attitudes to online shopping will be a momentous task. There is a sense of obduracy, with apparently unironic comments about the ‘lack of choice’. Perhaps people have not thought it through to its logical conclusion.

Parking, however, is an issue that can be addressed locally. Someone needs to grasp the nettle. The Rates, meanwhile, must be examined at national level, with due consideration given to factoring in turnover as a means to determining Rates for retailers. A Rates Bill is currently being drafted by the Government.

Patrick Street

On a not-unrelated note, it would break your heart to speak to some of the business people on Patrick Street trying to keep their doors open in the face of more disruptive works and traffic closures. Necessary though it may be, it appears to have caused extraordinary difficulties for some — and these businesses are now trying to pay their Rates.

The works continue into this month, with the most disruptive part now completed. Surely it could have been handled differently.