Slight upturn for Northern Ireland business, but Brexit and Stormont logjam a worry
Businesses fared slightly better in the second quarter of 2018 after a poor start to the year, according to a survey by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and BDO.
But the report, based on the responses of 228 companies, revealed that growth still remains subdued, with many reporting tougher trading conditions.
Despite a slight pick-up in manufacturing, the province remained well behind most other UK regions.
The latest quarterly economic survey showed that as the date for Brexit in March next year draws closer, more firms are expressing concerns over its potential impact.
Some 26% reported that Brexit had negatively impacted their ability to recruit non-UK nationals, compared to just 4% in the latter stages of 2016.
However, two-thirds said Brexit had no negative impact on turnover, though the remainder said the prospect of leaving the EU had had a negative impact on turnover.
Seven percent said Brexit had given a boost to their business.
More than half of the respondents (55%) said their main concern in trying to grow their business centred on how Northern Ireland is governed.
While the NI Chamber and BDO recounted severe levels of frustration with the Stormont stalemate, the survey revealed little consensus on the way forward. Just over one in four (27%) said direct rule was the answer, while 25% said they would prefer to see devolution restored.
Almost one-third (31%) said they didn't know or offered no comment.
The survey did reveal that 69% of respondents have plans in place to grow their organisation in the next three to five years.
BDO managing partner Brian Murphy said: "Intention to invest is not investment and I think that is one of the big impacts Brexit has brought to the table. It has delayed this investment. I just think we've just lost the last two-and-a-half years."
Chief executive of NI Chamber Ann McGregor said the sluggish growth facing Northern Ireland's economy highlighted that more needed to be done to put it on a surer footing.
She said: "There is no doubt that business confidence would rise if we had an Executive restored immediately to focus on the fundamentals for business - such as improving infrastructure, incentivising investment and addressing the skills shortage.
"Big, bold action is needed with major new incentives for business investment, confidence-boosting infrastructure projects, and a concerted effort to slash the up-front cost of doing business, which is putting consumer-facing businesses especially under intense pressure.
"The availability of skilled staff remains the biggest issue that businesses face."