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Bulk of Northern Ireland firms 'finding it difficult to hire EU staff'

Survey economist Maureen O’Reilly, BDO’s Brian Murphy and NI Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor
Survey economist Maureen O’Reilly, BDO’s Brian Murphy and NI Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor

By John Mulgrew

Two-thirds of businesses in Northern Ireland have said that they are finding it more difficult to recruit workers from the EU more than a year on from the vote for Brexit.

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And, according to the latest quarterly economic survey from the NI Chamber of Commerce and BDO, the overall economic results are "uninspiring".

Around half of local manufacturers said they were set to raise prices on goods due to a surge in rising costs.

As for the impact of Brexit, two-thirds of companies across the sectors said recruiting EU migrant workers was now more difficult than before the vote to leave. Around one-quarter of firms also said they had difficulty in retaining workers over the last three months.

Overall, the results show that the Northern Ireland economy continued to grow during the quarter, although there were some signs of a slowing, despite a positive performance in export markets.

Ann McGregor, NI Chamber of Commerce chief executive, said: "The uninspiring results we see in our third quarter findings reflect the fact that political uncertainty, the vagaries of the Brexit process and the resulting currency fallout are continuing to weigh on business growth prospects.

"The slump in sterling is pushing up sourcing costs for importers. Businesses are coming under increasing pressure to pass these costs onto customers at a time when their spending power is already squeezed."

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Around one in five companies said that they had been impacted as a result of the vote for Brexit, while a third said it had affected their plans for growth or expansion.

As for the role of EU workers, 17% of firms said they were "very important" to business.

But for larger companies with more than 250 employees, that number shoots up to 38%.

Brian Murphy, managing partner at BDO Northern Ireland, said: "Currency is of course only one factor impacting upon performance, but the latest quarterly economic survey indicates firms are responding to concerns with revised and realistic expectations of sustained or improved turnover and more modest profit margins.

"The next few months may see rising prices and a squeeze on some sectors, but despite the challenges we remain well placed to ride out the turbulence."

A greater number of businesses, around 55%, are increasingly concerned about currency fluctuations and the weak pound impacting on imports and increasing the cost base.

Belfast Telegraph