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More than 6,000 small firms face problems, enterprise body warns


Michael McQuillan

Around 6,200 businesses across Northern Ireland are facing difficulties, a survey suggests.

Enterprise organisation Enterprise Northern Ireland said its report suggested that around one in 20 small firms here were in difficulty.

Chief executive Michael McQuillan called for a restoration of the Executive, or the granting of extra powers to civil servants in the short term, so that small businesses can receive help.

"It is crucial that our politicians return to Stormont and form a fully functioning Executive," Mr McQuillan said. "There will be a heavy workload on those ministers to restore confidence and to provide leadership, strategy and vision for the business and wider community.

"In (the absence of an Executive), our civil servants must be empowered to make short and long-term financial decisions.

"The totally inadequate system of one-year budgets (must be) brought to an end as a matter of urgency.

"Unless we have a focused plan in place with the aim of increasing the number of quality start-ups and increasing the number of well-run businesses that survive and thrive, we will jeopardise local community prosperity, local social cohesion and local health and wellbeing. We will not generate meaningful jobs or stop the damaging exit of young talent."

Enterprise Northern Ireland said it had carried out its biggest business survey yet, quizzing self-employed people, small businesses and micro-enterprises, and 51% had reported growth over the last year.

The organisation said Brexit was a key concern but that there were more "fundamental" difficulties, such as the availability of skilled workers, access to finance and investment in technology.

More than three-quarters of firms said Brexit in any form would impact on their business, with 40% believing it would have a severe impact.

Around half were concerned about the impact of a no-deal exit from the EU. However, only one in four had done any preparation for Brexit.

Mr McQuillan said: "The survey analysis depicts an agile business population.

"Despite huge uncertainty 51% of businesses have reported growth over the past 12 months, with one in 10 growing strongly. These businesses have the agility and determination to navigate around and through a range of barriers."

But he said they were less likely to be able to withstand setbacks and that the fragility of such small firms should be acknowledged. "Around one in 10 businesses are contracting, with one in 20 in trouble. This could mean that 6,200 small businesses across Northern Ireland are in trouble," he said.

He added that an enterprise and entrepreneurship strategy was needed. "There has been nothing in place for close to 15 years," he said.

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