THE heart is gone out of Portlaoise’s Main Street, according to Councillor Mary Sweeney, who has asked the council to establish a working forum with traders in Portlaoise with a view to enhancing trade and maintaining existing business in the town.
“A lot of traders are struggling,” she said, referring to recent high profile closures. “It’s incumbent on Laois County Council for business in the county to set up a brainstorming session or working forum so they can have in depth discussions.”
“The heart has gone out of Main Street and it is up to us to re-energise the town. Maybe someone could be innovative and come up with something else?” Cllr Sweeney suggested. She said it was unavoidable to have multi-nationals in a town, but said it was important to support local business.
Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council, Cllr James Deegan, said rates had become the whipping boy for business people.
“When people get into difficulty their first port of call is the local authority, but the first to be cut off is the local authority,” Cllr Deegan said. “Rates are the whipping boy - there are 23 other taxes with no recourse. Rates are the only stream of funding the council have to do anything for traders.”
Cllr Deegan said people should shop local.
“There is a wonderful range of goods and services available in Laois and people should use them. No business ever shut down from overuse,” he said.
Cllr Willie Aird said rates were one thing, but the water in/water out charges was also a huge bill for small businesses.
“They run in tandem with rates now,” Cllr Aird said, going on to compare the footfall on the other side of town any given Saturday, where there is free parking.
“We have to be upbeat and encouraging,” he said. “Businesses in Clonminham employ a person to keep the area swept and weeded. They are supposed to get this done with their rates.”
Cllr Deegan said he kept his premises and didn’t expect a bouquet.
“It’s part and parcel of having a business,” he added.
Town clerk, John Clarke said the council was “acutely aware of the very difficult trading environment experienced by many businesses during this economic recession”.
He said the council were examining a number of initiatives with a view to developing a working forum with trader and added that councillors will be kept informed of developments.