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EU referendum: Most small businesses say they want to stay amid strong fears of an export and investment slowdown

By Margaret Canning

Published 21/06/2016

Most small businesses say they want to stay amid strong fears of an export and investment slowdown
Most small businesses say they want to stay amid strong fears of an export and investment slowdown

Small businesses in Northern Ireland are divided on how to vote in Thursday's Referendum on EU membership.

But while many voices in Great Britain have lamented the red tape which they claim hinders them from getting business done, some small businesses here said they did not feel hindered by EU law.

Recruitment specialist Paul Wright (below) set up Distil Recruitment this year, specialising in sourcing niche talent for IT companies in Northern Ireland.

He said he had found there had been no red tape to encounter in setting up his business, adding: "The impact of the EU on the IT sector here is nothing but positive."

But Mr Wright said he feared that the sector would shrink in the event of a Brexit vote.

"I've recruited in the local IT sector for over 10 years, and I've seen many very positive changes in that period including the unprecedented levels of growth.  

"We've seen companies like Citigroup, Allen & Overy and CME Group choose Northern Ireland for back office operations and IT services, coupled with a thriving indigenous software house and start-up scene and this has added dramatically to the number of career-making, specialist job opportunities available."

But he said Northern Ireland may well lose out on attracting big-name international firms if it was no longer in the EU.  

"A site lead of another multinational software house that came to Belfast last year has told me that he is deeply concerned about the impact of leaving the EU.

"His company was incentivised by Invest NI in conjunction with EU funding to come here, create jobs and provide training. Without this financial assistance the move simply would not have happened.

"I am now seeing other local businesses tell me that they are preferring to hold off on going ahead with certain projects or even in their recruitment and growth strategy until they see the result and the fall-out of the vote. This is a negative impact before the vote even takes place."

But former bus company owner William Leonard in Bready, Co Tyrone said he was in favour of a Brexit, claiming that the only EU laws which appeared to be enforced were those which hampered his business.

As the former boss of Leonard Travel, he had campaigned against the ability of Republic of Ireland bus firms to go for contracts for schools in his area.

He told the Londonderry Sentinel that up to 90% of former Western Education and Library Board (WELB) private hire home to school transport tenders in Londonderry were held by Irish firms.

Mr Leonard said: "Get out (of the EU) because our boys, they don't know what the laws are. Whenever they do enforce a law, they enforce the laws that are holding you back. They don't enforce the law that makes it handy for everybody."

But Timothy Graham, sales and marketing manager at Grahams Bakery in Dromore, Co Down, said he was worried about the impact of Brexit on his export business.

At home, the business supplies Tesco Northern Ireland and in the Republic the Henderson Group. It also exports to the Middle East.

"We do about 15 to 20% of our business in the Republic so there's uncertainty about whether that would be affected.

"But on a day to day basis, we don't find that EU legislation has any particular impact that we find particularly onerous."

And he said that through Invest NI, the company had received EU support for projects including missions to meet potential overseas customers, and for support for their visits to Northern Ireland.

And of its workforce of around 40, he employed a number of skilled EU nationals, including people from Poland.

Belfast Telegraph

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