BUSINESS people across Clare will be relieved that the County Council’s 2023 budget agreed on Friday, contained no increase on commercial rates.
While the initial proposal from the Council executive was for a 2.5% increase, that wasn’t accepted by the Councillors and the figure will now be frozen at the 2022 level.
Speaking on Tuesday, Councillor Mary Howard said it would have been impossible to justify an increase.
“Having come out of a worldwide pandemic, dealing with the after affects of Brexit, the war in Ukraine and the supply chain issues that have been there for the last two years, I just think increasing rates would be the wrong thing to do, absolutely, at this time.”
She said that the “vast majority” of people she spoke to were similarly opposed to increasing rates for next year, and the proposed 2.5% increase had little support.
“Looking at Ennis, what I’ve seen since businesses have reopened, in O’Connell Street a number have already closed down, and more will probably be gone before Christmas.
“I couldn’t in my conscience support a rate increase,” the Fine Gael councillor added.
She said that local traders are suffering through competition with online shopping, meaning it is particularly important not to make things more difficult for them.
“When you look at the retail offering that we have in Ennis, they face huge, huge competition from online trading. Every morning I see vans making deliveries and the retail offering has been really badly affected.
“It’s only a matter of time until we lose a lot of those. To try and extend their lifespan effectively, I’d very much not in favour of a rate increase.”
She feels that more needs to be done to make sure the rating system is fit for purpose.
“The Department have looked at different ways of setting a rate, before it was just on your square footage which was an archaic way of doing it.
“Now, we need to have a scale, everything from wind farms to factories to airports, that they’d all have a category. Small retail outlets that just employ one or two people should have a separate level.
“This year they will have increased heating and lighting bills, their stock will have got more expensive, the transporting of that stock too, and then they could have had a rates increase on top? That could have been the straw that would have broken the camel’s back for a lot of small businesses.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.