A Northern Ireland Assembly minister has launched a scathing attack on Tesco after it claimed that the country’s proposed large retail levy would jeopardise the company’s investment and job creation.

Finance minister Sammy Wilson branded Tesco’s comments as “pathetic” and accused it of “bully boy tactics”.

From April next year the Northern Ireland Assembly plans to impose a 20% levy on rates for retailers with a rateable value of £500,000 or more, in order to cover the cost of the expansion of the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme. Small businesses with net annual value of £5,001-£10,000 will be entitled to 20% relief under the plans.

But Tesco warned that the levy could jeopardise its plans to create 1,500 jobs and invest £100m in Northern Ireland over the next three years. “It is the wrong tax at the wrong time for Northern Ireland’s economy and communities,” Tesco said.

Wilson responded: “For Tesco to come up with the argument that this rate relief tax is going to put £100m of investment in jeopardy is pathetic. Tesco think that because they are a big company they can come in and bluster and blow and bully, and they are not going to unseat what I believe is a good policy to help small businesses through the recession.”

Welcoming the minister’s comments, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “Instead of making threats and providing no real alternatives, Tesco should outline their views as how to fund the small business rate relief scheme. 

“This scheme is about creating a level playing field in relation to rates between large and small retailers.”