Belfast Telegraph

Vital signs look good as Northern Ireland businesses see growth

By Margaret Canning

Businesses are seeing improvements in vital signs like sales, profitability and employment, according to a bellwether survey.

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce's regular economic survey found more firms in both the services and manufacturing sectors were reporting a pick-up in their businesses than a fall during the third quarter of the year – the first time both sectors had reported a positive showing since the third quarter of 2007.

But export sales had weakened and the services sector performance had deteriorated, indicating that the Northern Ireland recovery was more feeble than the UK as a whole.

While services firms reported a rise in domestic sales and orders, cashflow in the sector had become worse. Confidence about turnover and profit had also decreased.

Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor said firms were "at the precipice" after some months of modest growth. Boldness was required to build on that growth – and politicians also had to play their part, she said.

"The government must be bold and implement measures to boost growth further, and the Autumn Statement is an opportunity to do so.

"As we get ever closer to the general election, political parties must not be drawn into politicking for cheap votes at the expense of clear long-term solutions to bring a sustainable recovery."

Nine out of 10 businesses surveyed said they were affected by red tape, with employment, health and safety and procurement cited as the top three most burdensome issues.

Michael Jennings of business advisers BDO, which presents the survey with the chamber, said clients were not taking an incipient recovery for granted.

"Our clients are cautiously optimistic and things are improving. Turnover is by and large increasing and profit is starting to improve."

But clients were still "cautious and holding back and thinking, "are we quite there yet?", " he added.

Mr Jennings said banks were appearing more willing to lend – but many clients were also anxious to sit tight.

On a positive note, he said corporate insolvencies were down around 35% to 40% on the year before.

Belfast Telegraph

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