A levy against large retailers has made further progress in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Proposals by finance minister Sammy Wilson have received widespread support during their second reading in the Assembly.

Under the proposals, retailers in Northern Ireland with a rateable value of at least £500,000 will be required to pay a levy of about 15% for three years, while the small business rate relief scheme will be extended, entitling owners to relief of up to 20%. The scheme is set to come into effect in April.

The support was welcomed by Northern Irish Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts. “Given that more than 1,000 small shops closed in 2011, this Rate Relief Scheme is a welcome response,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Scotland a war of words has broken out between the Scottish Grocers’ Federation (SGF) and the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC), which suggested the Small Business Bonus Scheme for rate relief should be scrapped. SGF chief executive John Drummond said the STUC had “spent too much time studying press releases and not enough time talking to people who run businesses”.