FREE parking on Saturday mornings, coupled with reduced rates and service charges, could help save jobs in struggling Cork city centre retail businesses.
Cork Business Association chief executive Donal Healy cited one Patrick Street retailer as paying €800,000 in annual rates and service charges to Cork City Council.
He was joined by Cork Chamber, IBEC Cork and the Vintners Federation in calling on local and national authorities to ease the pressures being placed on Cork businesses.
These bodies collectively welcomed the recent publication of the Local Government Efficiency Review Group, identifying €511 million in potential nationwide savings for local authorities.
The business bodies stressed, however, that savings must be used to reduce the burden placed on businesses and the thousands of people they employ.
Mr Healy said: “We have expressed our concerns to Cork city manager Joe Gavin and county manager Martin O’Riordan. The rateable valuation was €50.75 per square metre in 2000. It is €74.05 today. For one city centre department store, that adds up to €800,000 a year, with rent, service charges and water charges on top.
“There are 45,000 people unemployed in Cork, a 20-year high. We have seen the closure of numerous long-established businesses, people who are now left with long-term debt. There is no bailout for the people or their employees.”
Mr Healy said the consumer price index is down almost 8%; electricity prices are down; everything is coming down, bar rates. He said Cork shops selling goods at 60% or 70% discounts are a common sight and more retail closures and job losses seem inevitable.
Meanwhile, Cork businesses pay €60m of the €200m annual cost of running Cork City Council. Cork’s business bodies are calling on local authorities to reduce rates and service charges and to open up Cork as a market on Saturdays to bring people into city centre shops. Free parking is key to this idea.
In a written reply, Mr O’Riordan said: “I am very aware of the difficulties businesses are facing. Cork County Council has had to deal with significant reductions in funding. The council’s revenue budget of €324.7m for 2010 is down 9.2% from 2009, when it was €357.6m. We have reduced staff numbers by 578. There is a tough stance being taken to reducing the local government cost base.”
Mr Healy said he accepts the difficulties facing local authorities. However, he also cited such issues as waivers on bin charges in underprivileged areas, at a cost of €3m, among other cost-cutting measures.
These views were echoed by other business groups, who said the business community has for too long been viewed as “the funder of last resort”.
Cork Chamber president Ger O’Mahoney said: “All business organisations in the region are calling for the cost savings which can be achieved to be passed back to businesses in the form of reduced rates and other charges. The payment of commercial rates and other local authority charges is a significant burden on businesses, many of whom are... at risk of closure.”
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