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Northern Ireland firms hit hard by currency swings in wake of Brexit

Businesses squeezed to breaking point in wake of Brexit, says expert

By John Mulgrew

Published 02/08/2016

Conor Devine runs debt advisory firm GDP Partnership
Conor Devine runs debt advisory firm GDP Partnership

Small and medium-sized businesses across Northern Ireland are being squeezed to breaking point by post-Brexit currency swings, with one import business already facing closure, it has been claimed.

And some businesses across the sectors, including investment and retail, are now considering moving their operations to the Republic, according to Conor Devine.

The 38-year-old Cookstown man runs debt advisory firm GDP Partnership in Belfast.

He was also a staunch supporter of the UK remaining as part of the EU.

He said one client - a drinks import business which turns over around £2m a year - is looking at whether it can continue, after a huge slump in the value of the pound.

"One local business is in deep distress, directly linked to Brexit. They import all of their product, and paid for it three or four months ago," Mr Devine said.

"That has now totally changed, and their profit margin is squeezed. They have had a meeting to see if they could increase their prices.

"The firm has serious concerns about its future going forward because of Brexit.

"They have been going really well up to Brexit. They are wondering whether they are going to be able to continue on.

"Their costs have increased and they have become less competitive overnight, and they can't pass on these costs to the customers.

"We are at the coal face and we see lots of negativity in SMEs and households - incomes are being squeezed.

"One of the reasons the Brexiteers were banging the drum for exit was the impact on business. There are benefits, but the number of those it affects are quite low. It's a red herring.

"Dealing with small businesses, who sell predominately in Northern Ireland, the Republic and the rest of the UK. They are now incurring costs and taking on professional advisers for strategy."

However, others have said the economy, including the commercial property market, remains buoyant, post-EU vote.

Across the UK, the economy picked up pace in the run-up to the Brexit vote thanks to the strongest performance from industrial production since 1999, increasing by 0.6% in the second quarter of the year.

Meanwhile, demand for top-end office space in Belfast is continuing to rise despite uncertainty, according to CBRE.

Around 235,000 sq ft of office space was taken up during the first six months of this year, more than double the same period in 2015.

In the run-up to the Brexit vote, Mr Devine said investment funds he had spoken to were concerned that if there was a vote to leave the EU, Northern Ireland "would be more isolated" than the rest of the UK.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph this week, he said: "I've spoken to a number of companies who are in the process of cost-benefit analysis.

"They are taking advice about setting up in the Republic of Ireland, and trading in euros - looking at moving all, or part, of their business from Northern Ireland."

In the last few months, Mr Devine has also grown his business to include an arm that is focused on equity and lending.

Belfast Telegraph

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