In the current economic climate, a range of factors are impacting on closures of retail outlets, including changing patterns of consumer behaviour through on-line trading.
I am aware that many retail companies are concerned about the impact which rates and rents - particularly upward only rent reviews - are having on their cost base. When the Government came into office, it gave extensive consideration to abolishing upward-only rent reviews in leases signed before 28th February 2010. The advice received by the Government was that it was not possible to develop a scheme to tackle this issue that would not be vulnerable to a Constitutional challenge or compensation claims from landlords. On the basis of this advice, the Government concluded that it was not feasible to legislate to abolish upward only rent reviews.
However, the Government has taken steps to address the issue where possible. In the Action Plan for Jobs 2012, the Government undertook to place downward pressure on commercial rents where the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) had acquired the loan on the underlying property.
The 2013 Action Plan includes a number of specific commitments to support the retail sector, including an initiative to increase the number of businesses trading on-line and a project to develop a single business licence application portal for the sector. My Department is also chairing an Interdepartmental Group to undertake a short examination of further possible measures to assist the retail sector, which could, for example, be considered in the context of the Budget or the 2014 Action Plan for Jobs. The Group comprises key Government Departments and has already met with the main representative bodies for the retail sector. The Group will hold a further series of meetings with other stakeholders this week.