In an Assembly answer, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister said there had been limited capacity for policy development due to “finite” staff resource and the urgency of dealing with the pandemic.
The first meeting of the body took place last month. It was set up in August.
SDLP Economy spokesperson Sinead McLaughlin said more decisive action was required to help high streets recover and to respond to the move towards online shopping.
“So it is both disappointing and bizarre that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister did not convene the first meeting of the high street task force for nearly six months,” said the Foyle MLA.
“We need to urgently plan for how we encourage shoppers to support our local and independent retailers.
“But we also have to get on with the job of physically reshaping our urban centres to make them more accessible places, with more physical space, more leisure activities and residential accommodation. Our city and town centres must have a purpose that goes beyond retail and offices.”
She said while she recognised the difficulties resulting from staff shortages, the future of town and city centres was “one of our most pressing priorities”.
This week chocolate retailer Thorntons announced it was closing all its stores, including three here. It follows other retailers such as Debenhams and Arcadia announcing the closure of their outlets.
Ms McLaughlin said a long-term solution was required involving the redesign of city and town centres.
In its answer to the Assembly question from Ms McLaughlin, the Executive Office said: “The timescale for establishing the task force was longer than envisaged for two reasons.
“Firstly, the finite nature of staff resource, and the priority given to work relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, meant that there was limited capacity for the necessary policy development work.
“Secondly, in keeping with the principles of co-design and delivery, it was necessary to invest time in engaging with stakeholders, and in gathering evidence on best practice elsewhere.”
The task force, which is chaired by junior ministers Gary Middleton and Declan Kearney, will create “a new vision of thriving high streets where retail and hospitality can play their part”, according to the Executive Office.Tags: