Belfast Telegraph

Deepening recession means recovery is three years away

By Margaret Canning

Business leaders in Northern Ireland believe the economy is facing a deepening recession with recovery around three years away, according to a survey.

The Goldblatt McGuigan business survey asked 210 business owners and senior managers for their views on the economy.

Nearly all said they were suffering personally as a result of the downturn and were also harbouring pessimism for the future.

Over two-thirds (68%) said the economy was heading for even tougher times, although the remainder thought we were at the bottom of the recession.

But no one thought the recession was over. Nearly half of those surveyed said they expected recovery in 2014 or afterwards, while 28% said 2013, and just over a quarter thought there would be signs of improvement next year.

Sam Goldblatt, managing partner of Goldblatt McGuigan, said: "The latest survey highlights the gravity of the local economic situation as our business leaders struggle to manage their companies in poor trading conditions whilst coping with the prospects of a slow and sluggish recovery.

"With more than two thirds of those surveyed believing that we haven't witnessed the worst of the tough times yet, confidence and morale in the private sector is obviously at an all-time low."

Mr Goldblatt said it was "worrying" that nearly half of business people did not expect improvement until at least 2014.

"Over the next few years we are going to face the challenges of a further tightening of the public purse strings whilst inflation continues to rise.

"The construction industry's activity has sunk to its deepest depth in recent times with reports that many small to medium-sized enterprises in the industry are managing negative workloads.

"However, the manufacturing sector is providing some relief and continues to perform well as global demand remains relatively strong and consistent." He said policy makers should find a way of balancing the need for private sector stimulus while bearing the impact of government cuts.

Almost all senior managers said the recession was harming them. More than half were having stress-related health problems, just over 20% had trouble sleeping, under one-fifth had problems achieving a work-life balance and 7% reported strained relationships.

Mr Goldblatt said: "The sheer number of business leaders reporting health problems as a result is gravely concerning. As the managing partner of a local business, it seems counter-intuitive to advise managers to adopt a more evenly weighted work-life balance when it appears the only reasonable way out of recession is to stimulate trading through even harder work and endeavour.

"It is clear that with managers and staff working longer hours for less reward and with significantly reduced rest and recuperation time, something has to give."

The International Monetary Fund last week revised its growth predictions for the UK from 1.5% to 1.1%.