Fianna Fáil TD for Offaly Barry Cowen says his party is currently preparing a new policy document aimed at reforming the commercial rates system.

Deputy Cowen added that fairness will be at the heart of the proposals as he wants to ensure the tax burden does not disproportionately impact on small to medium sized businesses.

“Many small businesses in Offaly have been hit with large increases in their commercial rates following a recent revaluation in the county. These businesses are already struggling to stay afloat. I fear that the increases could force business owners to lay off staff and may even force some companies to close entirely,” explained Deputy Cowen.

“Small business owners feel that the current commercial rates system is not fit for purpose. It places too much of an emphasis on the perceived value of the business without taking on board the ability of the business to actually pay the rates being demanded. A business might be valuable on paper, but nonetheless it could still have substantial cash-flow problems which the current rates system will simply not identify. Ability to pay should form a central part of how rates are evaluated.

“The commercial rates system has to encourage start-up businesses and regional development. We have to ensure that a disproportionate burden does not fall on small to medium sized businesses. We also have to ensure that the commercial rates system helps bring about balanced economic development. I am aware of one case where a business in Tullamore is paying €30,000 more in rates each year as compared to a similar business in Mullingar which has the same property value. These inconsistencies need to be tackled.

“Fianna Fáil is currently working on comprehensive proposals aimed at reforming commercial rates. We are examining international best practice as part of this process. Specifically, we are looking at the possibility of establishing a ‘rates holiday’ for start-up businesses to help encourage job creation. We are also examining the possibility of implementing an ‘inability to pay’ clause to help struggling businesses to restructure and avoid having to cease operations.

“Commercial rates are an important revenue source for local authorities and help provide key services. The system has served the country well down through the years but it simply has not adapted to the changing commercial environment. Reform is needed to ensure small to medium sizes businesses can thrive, especially in rural communities.”