NI Enterprise Barometer reveals sobering findings due to Covid-19

Enterprise Northern Ireland (ENI) has just released findings from the 2020 Enterprise Barometer and figures show that 85% of small, micro and self-employed businesses here have been negatively impacted by Covid-19.

Enterprise Northern Ireland CEO, Michael McQuillan and Northern Irish Economist, Maureen O’Reilly launching the findings of the 2020 Enterprise Barometer
Enterprise Northern Ireland CEO, Michael McQuillan and Northern Irish Economist, Maureen O’Reilly launching the findings of the 2020 Enterprise Barometer

Enterprise Northern Ireland (ENI) has just released findings from the 2020 Enterprise Barometer and figures show that 85% of small, micro and self-employed businesses here have been negatively impacted by Covid-19.

Almost 600 small businesses participated in ENI’s Enterprise Barometer Survey which paints a challenging picture of the economic landscape.

Cash flow and liquidity concerns are at the forefront of business owners’ minds. 70% of businesses reported a decrease in turnover over the last 12 months and this is compounded by an underlying concern from businesses who borrowed money to survive the global crisis, with 1 in 5 extremely concerned around their ability to pay back business debt.

The survey covers largely micro enterprises (less than 10 employees), small business (less than 49 employees) and the self-employed. This group however represents 99.2% of all enterprises in the NI economy.

Reflecting changing work trends accelerated due to the pandemic, 42% of businesses plan on increasing flexible (home) working, with 1 in 5 planning to decrease external working space.

Concerns about Brexit saw almost half of the businesses surveyed expecting the exit from the EU to have a negative impact on their business with only 4% expecting a positive impact.

There are huge issues around a lack of Brexit preparedness, with only 1 in 5 businesses preparing and 55% saying they don’t know where to get help and guidance.

The vulnerability of Northern Irelands micro and small businesses is clear to see as the uncertainty around future trading deals and the implementation of NI-GB controls continue.

70% of the businesses purchase from GB whilst 66% of the businesses sell outside of Northern Ireland.

CEO of ENI, Michael McQuillan said: “No-one will be surprised that this year’s Enterprise Barometer has raised serious concerns around the impact of both the global pandemic and the impending exit from the EU. However, the high level and complexity of difficulties resulted in some soberingly shocking findings.

“It is vital to remember that the Enterprise Barometer 2020 has also given businesses the opportunity to clearly state the support that they urgently need if we are going to give the NI economy any chance of recovery.

“It has been an incredibly challenging year for our micro and small businesses and the self- employed and the survey findings really signify just how critical it is that we listen to what they have told us, act now and provide the support they need.

“The businesses we surveyed make up 99% of the NI economy so it is vital that we listen to them, remembering they are the bedrock of our economy generating a pipeline of bigger exporting businesses and the supply and service chains for our FDI businesses.

“The Enterprise Barometer must inform strategic policy and shape practical interventions throughout the enterprise development ecosystem – we must collectively translate what businesses have asked for into easily accessible bespoke support and guidance.”

Northern Irish Economist, Maureen O’Reilly, who led on the Enterprise Barometer research continued: “Once again the Enterprise Barometer has been incredibly informative and gives an eye-opening snapshot of the struggles of this vital sector of the NI economy.

“This year’s survey really highlights the tremendous pressure currently on start-ups and early start businesses specifically, who are struggling most in the current difficult climate.”

Chairman of ENI, Nick O’Shiel, explained: “More than 3000 early stage and established micro and small businesses engage with the ENI network on a weekly basis, so we are uniquely placed to reach out to the sector. I am delighted that Enterprise Barometer has once again produced a very telling and accurate picture of the state of this sector using information gathered at the coal face.”

Mr McQuillan added: “It’s important to bear in mind when we talk about businesses in this context, we are talking about people, behind these numbers and statistics there are families and individuals many of whom are suffering not just financially but also in terms of their health and well-being.

“With this in mind, ENI believe a comprehensive and immediate response for our small and micro businesses that are struggling is necessary - getting the support they need on to the ground and easily accessible. We then need to ensure there is an integrated Enterprise and Entrepreneurship strategy at the heart of all economy planning and decision making in the region. It is only through effectively supporting our early stage businesses and our mainstay

micro and small business population will we have any chance of rebuilding and growing in the future.”

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