Belfast Telegraph

Manufacturing review reveals 'a vibrant and growing sector' despite climate

By Ryan McAleer

Eight in 10 manufacturing firms in Northern Ireland recorded a profit last year with almost half recruiting new staff.

The findings are contained in a new survey released by lobby group Manufacturing NI and law firm Tughans.

Almost three-quarters (72%) of the 155 online respondents described their firm as growing and 55% were expecting growth in the next 12 months.

But 82% of companies either believe that Brexit will be bad for business or that they simply don't know what its impact will be.

Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly said Brexit and the political vacuum at Stormont are among the issues hindering the sector from growing.

He also suggested the survey indicated that a focus on high-profile job losses at JTI Gallaher's and Michelin - both formerly major employers in Ballymena which have now closed down their operations - has masked the success and resilience of others.

"This is the most comprehensive survey that has been done of the sector this year," he explained.

"Far from the sunset industry some may think, it shows a vibrant, successful and growing sector making a larger contribution to the economy and jobs and poised to have a bigger impact if we can provide them with the right political, economic and trading environment."

He said the absence of and Assembly and Executive was a challenge for the sector as it led to a stagnation in updating legislation and introducing new policies.

"Companies are also experiencing delays with getting new products off the ground and are having to shelve a number of projects until the political climate becomes more stable," he added.

The survey included companies spread right across the province, with the majority employing between 10 and 49 people.

More than half (55%) intend to take on more workers in the next year, while 68% said they delivered wage increases between 2-5% last year, with 40% planning to do so in the next 12 months.

James Donnelly, corporate partner at Tughans, said a finding that 57% of respondents had recorded increased sales in the last year was "good news".

But he added the fact that 83% of businesses are in recruitment mode hints at problems finding enough skilled workers.

"It is a concern that skilled workers such as those with engineering and automated manufacturing skills are proving difficult to find," he said.

"It's another reason why this sector, as well as the Northern Ireland economy generally, needs to see local government restored."

The most prevalent concern among the companies surveyed was the rising cost of doing business, with 60% flagging it up as a concern.

Belfast Telegraph

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