Belfast Telegraph

Our SMEs are helping to push us towards economic recovery

By Wilfred Mitchell

One issue that needs clarified in light of this research is that small businesses are the power behind the economy in Northern Ireland, to the extent that they comprise 98% of the local economy.

The FSB Northern Ireland contends that small businesses represent nearly 70% of research and development-performing local businesses and are simultaneously leading the way towards economic recovery through the export market.

Research by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment indicates that high growth in businesses throughout the economy appears to be spread evenly.

However, the FSB believe that sectors such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) creative industries and agri-food have the greatest potential for growth.

Whilst these findings are disappointing they are not a surprise, as the research highlights a number of concerns that FSB Northern Ireland have long been highlighting as detrimental to the local economy. Firstly, a deeper and longer recession has left a more difficult environment within Northern Ireland for businesses to operate, compared to the rest of the UK.

Secondly, access to finance remains a real issue. Invest NI has attempted to mitigate the worst impacts of this through a suite of funds totalling more than £160m directed towards high growth companies but much more needs to be done.

Finally, it is necessary for any workforce to possess the relevant skills to take advantage of high growth sectors and there should be greater emphasis on this area. This week's announcement within the draft 2015/16 Budget that the Department for Employment and Learning budget is to be cut by 10.8% is particularly concerning given the resulting loss of further and higher education places.

Wilfred Mitchell is FSB Northern Ireland policy chair

Belfast Telegraph

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