Rather than sit back and moan about their troubles, the traders of South Belfast teamed up with their partners in the South Belfast Partnership at the weekend to put their best foot forward.

At an arts and music extravaganza, which took in the length of the Lisburn Road, they demonstrated the local ties which bind our small businesses to the community while showing off local treasures like Drumglass Park.

As support gathers for the South Belfast News’ ‘Buy Local’ campaign (our own modest contribution to the economic fightback), it’s clear that it will take a concerted effort by all to turn round our economic fortunes.

And in those efforts, the government must take centre-stage.

That’s why we’re this week launching a new petition to encourage Finance Minister Sammy Wilson to stick to his guns over proposals to provide rates relief to small businesses and merchants.

The CBI, our largest business organisation, is warning this week that plans to impose additional rates on out-of-town megastores and mammoth shopping complexes could hamper economic regeneration.

We beg to differ. In fact, we believe the current rates system is unfairly biased against small retailers.

It’s time to rebalance the economy by giving more help to the little guy and gal.

Onerous rates and high rents have taken their toll on shopkeepers across Belfast – each week we see the shutters come down permanently on much-loved retail outlets – and Minister Wilson’s far-sighted proposals are timely and apposite.

The Minister should face down his big-business critics and push on with reforms to ease the rates burden on local shops which are nurturing community, providing jobs and creating wealth.  The out-of-town shopping centres have had it their own way for too long – their success has come on the backs of local neighbourhoods which form the very backbone of Belfast.

Sign the petition today and add your voice to those building a better Belfast.