Law firm Tughans is sponsoring the Outstanding Service to Business category in the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in association with British Airways. Patrick Brown, managing partner at the law firm, talks to the Business Telegraph
Q: What are the main challenges facing businesses in Northern Ireland in 2015?
A: Confidence is slowly returning to the economy in Northern Ireland. Employment has increased, house prices are recovering, there is low inflation and there is increased activity in the property market. We have also seen the recovery of asset prices and although there is increased availability of bank funding in some sectors, availability of debt funding more generally remains challenging.
Similarly, there continues to be a legacy debt problem with significant loan sales and the outworking of that is unpredictable. The public sector reforms and spending cuts will continue to impact upon the private sector, particularly in relation to construction and services.
The strength of the pound is also likely to impact on exports and the manufacturing and tourism sectors.
Q: What are the growing areas of legal practice for Tughans?
A: We have been busy across all areas in 2014, in particular our dispute resolution, employment and healthcare departments. We anticipate that the increased merger and acquisition (M&A) activity we have seen in our corporate department will continue and we anticipate continued growth in our banking department.
In addition to refinancing instructions, our property department has seen a considerable increase in transactional work and there is a strong pipeline of property transactions for 2015.
Having listened to our clients as to their specific requirements we have recruited three new partners to continue to grow our practice - Maria O'Loan in our environmental, planning and energy department, David McAleese in our banking department and Tim Kinney in our construction and projects team.
Q: Why are you sponsoring the category of Outstanding Service to Business? What is the importance of the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards to the business community in NI?
A: In Northern Ireland we can be reluctant to sing our own praises, so the awards are a great forum to do this on behalf of our businesses and their people. There are a significant number of companies performing strongly and it is important to recognise and celebrate their success.
Tughans selected the 'Outstanding Service to Business' category because it mirrors our own practice. We have supported companies across all sectors in Northern Ireland as a trusted advisor for almost 120 years.
Q: What trends do you expect to see in the M&A market in Northern Ireland in 2015?
A: The last year saw transaction volumes in the Northern Ireland market increase by 12% returning the biggest growth for any of the UK regions, although the aggregate value of transactions fell from the previous year.
As a firm we were busy, topping the Experian Deal Review and Advisor League Table in three out of the four quarters of 2014. These included a number of FDI transactions such as Whale Pumps (Bangor) and Telestack (Omagh) in deals with US companies in excess of £20m.
These manufacturing sector deals will most likely provide the bulk of Northern Irish M&A activity in the short term, but deal flow in that sector is dropping off, mirroring a national trend. New growth is coming through across a number of other sectors, in particular information and communication and professional, scientific and technical activities.
Private equity investors have been consistently active in Northern Ireland and the number of PE-backed deals are noticeably higher here than in the rest of the UK, with the renewable energy sector a prime target.
Q: Are you hopeful that devolution of corporation tax will make a big difference to foreign direct investment in Northern Ireland?
A: Devolution of corporation tax could play a significant role in driving economic growth. However, it is only one of a number of important factors in attracting foreign direct investment.
There is global competition to attract such investment and while Invest NI has had considerable success that competition will continue to be intense, not least with the Republic of Ireland.
Without all elements in place, including a skilled workforce, private sector development, modern infrastructure, grade A office space and a quality of life that will attract talent and companies from overseas, corporation tax alone will not be the magic wand to stimulate economic growth.
Q: Are you seeing firm evidence of economic recovery?
A: The legal services sector is forecast for growth in 2015 and although the economic climate is still difficult we have experienced growth in the first quarter across a number of areas, including real estate, banking, corporate, contacts and technology and this mirrors the wider NI economy.
We're continuing to see M&A activity within the manufacturing sector, particularly from companies attracting foreign investment, although the falling euro is starting to cause problems which may surface in the coming year.
The gala awards dinner will take place on Thursday, April 30 at the Culloden Hotel. A table of 10 is £900+Vat and individual places are £100+Vat. For further info or to book a table contact Sarah Weir (JPR) on firstname.lastname@example.org or 028 9076 0066