Belfast Telegraph

Number of Northern Ireland businesses rises for third year in a row, survey reveals

By John Mulgrew

The number of businesses in Northern Ireland has risen by 2.2% in the last year, fresh figures show.

According to the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency (NISRA), there were 71,615 firms registered to pay VAT or PAYE tax in 2017.

This marks the third consecutive year of increase following a period of decline from 2008 to 2014

However, the increase in the number of businesses in Northern Ireland over the year was lower than that of the UK of 4.5%.

The largest increases in the number of businesses since 2016 were in construction, with 355, and production, on 260.

However, there was a decrease in the number of wholesale, retail and health-sector firms.

The Northern Ireland business growth rate in 2017 was higher than Scotland, but lower than Wales on 2.7% and England on 4.8%.

Northern Ireland's business numbers still falls 1.1% behind the 2008 level of 72,445 companies.

Breaking down the figures by ownership, 2.3% of companies had a "non-Northern Ireland country of ownership".

But that small proportion accounted for almost one quarter of Northern Ireland employees.

Dr Esmond Birnie of the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre said that while it is likely there is "some connection" between the increase in numbers, and overall economic growth, that "the key is some".

"It's not necessarily going to be straightforward or direct," he said.

"There could be other reasons why (the companies) have come into being - tax-related, which might not recognise output, sales, turnover or entrepreneurship.

"But at face value, numbers growing is good. In terms of growth in Northern Ireland, the percentage is slower than the UK average.

"That is consistent with what we are seeing in terms of economic output growth, in recent years, in Northern Ireland, compared with the UK average."

The Northern Ireland economy continues to show some growth in the last few months of the year, according to a survey from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry and business advisers BDO.

However, there are concerns it will shrink as the year progresses. But the province remains one of the UK's weakest-performing regions overall, with manufacturing firms nervous about making investments.

And both manufacturers and services sector firms were concerned about cash flow, according to the quarterly economic survey.

Meanwhile, businesses here were also frustrated at the lack of an Executive.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.