More than 300 Derry businesses owe more than £10,000 in rate arrears, it has been revealed.
SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood says the figures he obtained from the Department of Finance show the extent to which many local firms are struggling “not only to make ends meet, but to avoid crippling debt”.
“There appears to be a real danger that the economic impact of government’s desperation to reduce deficits in public finances is acting to increase debts on our private sector. This is both unfair and economic folly,” he says.
The Derry MLA asked the north’s Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to detail “how many businesses in the Foyle constituency have rates arrears over £10,000”.
The Minster replied: “As at 30th November 2012, rates of over £10,000 remain unpaid for 331 Non-Domestic properties in the Derry District Council Area.”
Mr Eastwood says that situation needs to be addressed immediately.
“The rates relief introduced last year by the Minister was a step in the right direction, and was welcomed as such, but these figures clearly display that more needs to be done if businesses are to stay afloat,” he says.
“Rating policy alone, however, won’t act to completely solve the debt problem or the need for general economic growth.
The SDLP MLA says “all the economic levers and arms of government will be required to lift this region from its crisis in joblessness. “
In October the ‘Journal’ revealed more than £1.7million of debt from unpaid rates was written off in Derry last year - a rise of more than 115% in just three years.