Sentiment survey shows continued optimism among Belfast businesses

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A staggering 95% of businesses reporting an increase of fuel and electricity costs and 85% saying the cost of raw materials have gone up

A sentiment survey of almost 400 Belfast businesses has revealed continued optimism among the city’s business community, as it recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

While almost half of respondents (42%) said uncertainty around the impact of the pandemic was still a concern, 60% of those surveyed said they expected turnover to increase in the next six months across various markets, and 46% said they believed profitability would also improve in the same period.

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The findings are part of the latest Belfast Business Survey, carried out by Belfast City Council in partnership with Belfast Chamber.

The survey is being used as a sentiment tracker to capture the views of businesses and find out how they are performing, and what challenges they’re facing.

The first sentiment survey was carried out in summer 2021, with the latest survey of businesses carried out in February and March this year. It sought the views of a range of businesses, representing a number of business sectors and company sizes.

Other key findings included:

A third of businesses (36%) said they planned to recruit in the next six months to meet staff shortages, with the majority (60%) saying they expect to maintain staffing levels

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Almost half (42%) of businesses said they planned to make investments in IT solutions for their business within the next year

19% said they are planning to invest in net zero carbon initiatives, with a focus on recycling, reducing waste and staff training to raise awareness of sustainability

More than a third of businesses (36%) said they were looking for support to improve staff skills

A quarter (27%) said they would welcome support on improving staff health and wellbeing.

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And 95% of respondents reported an increase in fuel and electricity costs, with a similar number reporting higher wholesale prices and more expensive raw materials.

Lisa Toland, senior manager for Economy, Belfast City Council, said: “This sentiment tracker gives us important insights into how our business community is faring as the Covid recovery journey continues. It gives us valuable information to help us to identify and plan the most effective support for businesses.

“While there are undoubtedly challenges for our business community - not just pandemic-related – there’s also positivity, both in terms of the trading outlook and employment. It’s also insightful that investing in staff and improving their health and wellbeing is something that businesses are looking for more support around, as it demonstrates a commitment to making employees feel valued and rewarded.”

Simon Hamilton, CEO of Belfast Chamber of Commerce added: “The results of the latest Belfast Business Survey illustrate the almost unique nature of the economic situation we find ourselves in at present.

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“Whilst businesses in the city are reporting that turnover and profitability are up, and up significantly in some cases, and that they anticipate both continuing to rise over the next six months, on the flip side, sizeable challenges remain.

“The rising cost of doing business is highlighted quite starkly in our survey, with a staggering 95% of businesses reporting an increase of fuel and electricity costs and 85% saying the cost of raw materials have gone up.

“A particular challenge exists with the cost and availability of labour. Nearly two-thirds of Belfast businesses surveyed have reported a rise in the cost of labour and more than a third have experienced difficulties in recruiting both professional and other suitably skilled staff. The accommodation and food services sector is the most acutely impacted, with half of all businesses surveyed reporting having problems hiring people.

“The latest Belfast Business Survey gives us cause for optimism that the city’s economy is in a recovery phase post-pandemic; however, it’s also clear that there will be major challenges during the next period and that ongoing support and assistance will be needed.”

To read the full results of the latest Belfast Business Survey, go to