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'Our competitive edge would be damaged if UK pulled out of EU'

By Joanne Sweeney

The owner of a Northern Ireland forklift company has claimed that his business will suffer if the UK pulls out of the EU.

Portadown-based Clearlift Material Handing Ltd (CMHL) says that a Brexit would increase its import costs to its customers in the Republic, which represents 80% of its business.

The firm is set to expand stock and double its workforce over the next three to four years, after receiving a £500,000 cash boost from the Growth Loan Fund.

But its managing director Jonathan Savage fears a serious setback to expansion plans if the June 23 referendum result is to exit.

"Some 80% of our business this year has been Dublin and the south," Mr Savage told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We would be seriously affected if the UK came out of the EU, because our competitive edge that we have established in Dublin over the last few years would be mitigated by the fact that we would have import duty into the south."

Should the Leave campaign win the day, Mr Savage says that his business might have the option of diversifying more into the UK, but that it would serve to increase its costs.

"We would be less competitive and less profitable... and that's a very bad combination in business," he said.

"Our selling point is that we offer competitive pricing and high quality equipment to our customers.

"The Irish market is very buoyant at the moment, Dublin is booming.

"We are really seeing it in the food manufacturing and distribution sector in the south."

Established in 2007, CMHL focuses on the sale and hire of new material handling equipment.

Mr Savage says the firm offers competitive pricing and can deliver a forklift truck for hire to Cork at a cost of €100 (£78).

"This additional funding support from the Growth Loan Fund will initially enable us to expand our fleet of equipment by purchasing 70 new forklifts and we hope to attract further investment from the Growth Loan Fund as the business expands," he said.

The rental fleet currently has 320 units, but the prospect for growth is strong.

"Over the next three years we plan to increase our units rented to 1,000." Mr Savage said.

Finance for the £50m Growth Loan Fund provides loans to established Northern Ireland small and medium-sized firms.

The Growth Loan Fund is managed by WhiteRock Capital Partners. Senior investment manager Neil McCabe said the decision to finance the firm had been an "easy" one to make.

But pro-Brexit campaigner Jeff Peel, of Quadriga Consulting, said the UK exit "will have no effect whatsoever on import duties between the UK and the Republic of Ireland".

"No-one is talking about trade tariffs between the two nations. Most in favour of Brexit want more free trade, not less.

"The UK's exit will have no effect whatsoever on import duties applying in the Republic, on imports from other countries."

Belfast Telegraph