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Most Northern Ireland firms to change strategy after Brexit vote, Chamber survey reveals

By John Mulgrew

Published 17/08/2016

From left: Ann McGregor (NI Chamber); Brian Murphy (BDO); Maureen O'Reilly (NI Chamber economist) and Christopher Morrow (NI Chamber)
From left: Ann McGregor (NI Chamber); Brian Murphy (BDO); Maureen O'Reilly (NI Chamber economist) and Christopher Morrow (NI Chamber)

More than two thirds of firms in Northern Ireland have said they will revise their business plan following the Brexit vote, according to a survey.

Members of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said they were likely to freeze or pause investment, recruitment or growth plans.

The research was carried out in July, following the vote to leave the EU.

The Chamber questioned businesses in Northern Ireland - and thousands across the UK.

But despite the fears of some firms, a quarter of companies surveyed said they planned to expand or grow their businesses. And Brian Murphy of BDO - which carries out the survey with the Chamber - said the post-vote period was "like Christmas" for manufacturers with a strong export base, thanks to the weakening pound.

However, Chamber members said they were concerned about what changes to the EU trading rules could mean, with just over three-quarters of Northern Ireland firms raising it as an issue. And almost two thirds of firms questioned said there was a lack of clarity about the future immigration status of EU workers.

More than two thirds said the value of the pound was a major concern.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "The lack of information available post-Brexit is a concern for our members with a significant majority having already or expecting to revise their growth plans. There are particular concerns regarding trade agreements, labour movement and regional funding in particular.

"NI Chamber, in a recent policy document, has called for 'stability, clarity and action' around these issues and the findings of the survey underline the need for this to happen."

BDO partner Brian Murphy said despite concerns among businesses about Brexit, it was "like Christmas" for manufacturers with a strong export base.

He said one company had signed a multi-million pound deal to export to Australia in the days following the EU vote.

"The EU Referendum and its largely unexpected outcome has the potential to significantly change our market in a fundamental way. In the short term this change is unfortunately manifesting in a period of uncertainty.

"However, rather than stagnating, I am confident that businesses in Northern Ireland will in fact make the most of the positives, such as the advantages our exporters and our hospitality sector are benefiting from as a result of the weaker pound."

Meanwhile, the Chamber's full second quarter survey showed a modest upsurge in sales, employment and business confidence across most sectors. However, there was a fall in non-export orders for manufacturers.

The survey also showed firms believe there is a "skills mismatch" and a "shortage" across Northern Ireland.

"Skills shortages is consistently raised as one of the biggest issues facing our members," said Christopher Morrow, Chamber head of policy. "We must therefore ensure that skills investment is prioritised," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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