Belfast Telegraph

Can Fermanagh food firm save our bacon?

Half of firms here say they are now fighting for their survival but ...

By David Elliott

There are few signs that economic conditions are improving for companies operating in Northern Ireland and the Republic, according to an all-island survey released today.

IntertradeIreland's quarterly Business Monitor found that two fifths of companies across the island of Ireland reported a decrease in sales in the three months to the end of September, against only 24% reporting a sales boost.

Meanwhile, half of businesses said they are contracting and fighting for survival.

The survey, which directly questioned 1,000 businesses in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, also found more companies were decreasing staff numbers in the third quarter of the year than increasing them and that almost half said their financial position is worse than it was in 2010.

"The key finding of this particular survey is that it reflects how firms across the island are struggling to cope in what can be termed a new 'economic norm'," said Aidan Gough (below), director of strategy and policy for InterTradeIreland. "For over three years the survey has shown that more than half of businesses across the island have reported how the downturn has had a severe or moderate adverse impact on their firm."

Despite the weak showing in the third quarter, there is some optimism with a third expecting sales to pick up in the coming year.

"This demonstrates that there remains a positive entrepreneurial spirit amongst our SMEs and this is an attitude we want to encourage and, of course, support," Mr Gough added.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector has also proved more resilient and has fared better than businesses in other industries.

However, in comparison to the last quarter, almost double the number of manufacturers reported having been severely affected by the downturn, a sign that no sector is immune in the current business landscape, according to IntertradeIreland.

The latest Q3 Business Monitor figures also emphasise the issue of rising energy costs with a substantial increase in the number of businesses reporting this outlay as having a 'huge' impact on their business (Q2 27%; Q3 39%).

The survey also indicates that not enough businesses across the island are exporting with 65% not participating in any export activity.

"For many firms, trading cross-border is the first step to exporting to other international markets and there are a variety of InterTradeIreland support programmes available to help SMEs seek out these opportunities," Mr Gough said.

"I would encourage any SME to come and talk to us to see how we can help them improve their business performance."

65%

Percentage of companies with no export trade 24%

Firms whose last three months' sales are on rise39%

Firms where energy bills are having 'huge' impact12

Month contract has been signed with Albert Heijn 5

Gold stars awarded to Kettyle Irish Foods