Belfast Telegraph

Energy prices stifling investment in Northern Ireland, says business poll

By Claire Weir

High energy prices and a lack of infrastructure spending are deterring business investment in Northern Ireland, according to a new poll.

Overall, the quarterly economic survey from the NI Chamber of Commerce and business advisers BDO showed a disappointing end to 2014, with many manufacturing and services companies reporting deteriorating cash flow and lack of momentum.

Northern Ireland is weakest of the 12 UK regions for domestic sales, export orders, employment over the last three months and profitability.

Expectations of increasing the size of the workforce over the next three months were lower, views on cashflow were the most negative in the UK and Northern Ireland is one of only two UK regions where more manufacturers are expecting to reduce rather than raise prices.

More than three-fifths of firms (62%) said power and heating costs weighed heavily on their companies.

Over one-third (37%) of respondents said telecoms were too costly, while just under one third (30%) said international transport links as too expensive, with local transport links proving costly for 29% of companies.

The Utility Regulator is currently reviewing gas and electricity tariffs and is set to decide next month on any changes to energy bills to take effect from April 1.

Fracking for shale gas should be investigated according to some respondents, and completing construction of the North/South electricity interconnector was also recommended. Infrastructure proposals included movement on the A5 and A6 road networks, more flights to and from Northern Ireland and less taxes.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of the Manufacturing NI trade group, said the findings are not surprising, but said that 2015 should see some let-up with falling oil prices. He added that many of our biggest exporters, like Bombardier and Michelin, have been forced to explore alternative energy provisions in order to compete with sister companies across the globe.

Belfast Telegraph