Belfast Telegraph

Two in three directors hope to hire in 2014

CLARE WEIR

Nearly three quarters of business leaders expect business improvement in the New Year - yet another sign that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Northern Ireland economy.

An annual poll from the Institute of Directors, which has around 800 members here, showed that 65% of directors planned to invest in their company in 2014, with the same number planning to recruit new staff.

And 74% expect business improvement from next month onwards.

The results tally with other recent reports which have indicated that things are on the up for many sectors.

Unemployment figures published last week have shown an improvement in the jobs market with the claimant count falling by 700 to 60,200 in November.

However, the unemployment rate for August to October was up slightly to 7.5%.

Other reports show that exports, house prices and new car sales -- traditionally a good marker of the state of the economy -- are all on the rise in Northern Ireland.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has predicted that house prices will grow by 4% in Northern Ireland.

And earlier this month the Executive's manufacturing sales and exports survey for 2012/13 said sales at home and abroad grew by 1.9% to £16.9bn.

Manufacturing sales by Northern Ireland companies to Great Britain also hit a record £8.1bn.

The Northern Ireland Economic Outlook by PricewaterhouseCoopers last month predicted that Northern Ireland's economy is set to grow at its fastest rate since 2007 next year, with the economy expanding at a rate of around 1.6%.

However, despite the good news, almost a quarter of IoD members said they were concerned that "red tape" made it more difficult to run their businesses, stipulating procurement, Vat and employment law as the principal problems.

Last week the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster announced that a review team is to examine ways of cutting the burden of red tape on Northern Ireland businesses.

Paul Terrington, chairman of the IoD in Northern Ireland, said that a raft of recent economic studies show that the business tide is slowly turning.

"In today's climate the IoD is more relevant now than at any time across its 110-year history," he said.

"By inspiring and educating our leaders to be world class, we will hasten our region's economic growth and social responsibility for the betterment of our society."

November's Northern Ireland Economic Outlook from PwC also predicted that inflation should continue to ease downwards in 2014, while interest rates will remain at their all-time 0.5% low, at least for the medium term.

However, with wage increases continuing to lag behind inflation, and continued pressures on energy and other costs, squeezed households may not feel the direct benefits of recovery.

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