As controversy surrounding the VAT increase continues, one of Derry's best known businessmen has called upon the people of the North West to shop locally "as a matter of urgency" to help the city's independent retailers survive.
Martin McCrossan, Chair of Derry City Centre Traders Forum, told the 'Journal' this week: "We understand that everyone has had a very difficult year, but it seems clear that the government should not have gone ahead with the VAT increase at this moment and time. We are pushed to the limit."
Mr McCrossan, who runs the award-winning City Tours, said that shops were struggling due to the recent arctic weather and people being snowbound in the approach to Christmas, not to mention the burst pipes problems that followed.
"It's just been one thing after another," he said, "These problems affected families throughout the North West and certainly affected city centre trade - trade which many retailers were literally depending on in order to survive."
Mr McCrossan said that traders in Derry's city centre are already as low as they can go in terms of pricing, and any increase in VAT will "only serve to make matters worse".
"In terms of prices we're offering and being situated here on the border, we have some of the lowest prices in Ireland. Traders, just like customers, are very price conscious and they simply can't afford to go any lower.
"A lot of the shops are reluctant to scare away punters and so they will try and absorb the costs of this VAT increase so that it won't affect people coming into their business, but it going to be a very difficult year for all of us."
Mr McCrossan went on: "These increases will be very severe on everyone - there is no light at the end of the tunnel. It will benefit no-one."
"It is not a level playing field either, as the multinationals are paying a fraction of the rates than the independent traders are paying in the city centre," he added.
Voicing severe concerns about the future of independent trading in the city, Mr McCrossan urged customers to shop locally: "I would call upon Derry punters to support their independent traders as a matter of urgency. You can keep them going over this current recession and help them survive these difficult months to come.
"It's crucial that this begins now - you could be the saviour of Derry's independent traders. It's now or never."