The overwhelming majority of businesses in Northern Ireland have frozen investment in the wake of the UK vote to leave the EU, a survey for the Nothern Ireland Chamber of Commerce suggests.
The finding, fuelled by uncertainty over the future, is revealed in the Quarterly Ecomonic Survey carried out for the Chamber business advisors BDO.
Particular concerns surround the implications for trading rules, labour movement and regional funding.
The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry and business advisers BDO published a quarterly economic survey on Tuesday.
It said: “Of those businesses who do expect to make changes to growth, investment and recruitment plans, they are most likely to pause/freeze plans rather than scale back or expand.
“For example, 50% of those intending to make changes to investment decisions expect to put these decisions on hold.”
One in four businesses has already revised business plans or growth strategies due to Brexit and a further 45% plan to.
Just over half (53%) have revised investment plans or expect to do so, and 42% have revised recruitment or expect to do so.
Firms were most unclear about the implications for EU trading rules and regional funding.
They were also uncertain about future compliance with EU directives and regulations and the future immigration status of EU employees.
The value of the pound was another key area of concern.
Ann McGregor, the chamber’s chief executive, said: “Businesses are clear that they require stability for markets and business confidence, clarity on the time-frame for key decisions, and action to proactively support the economy at a sensitive time of transition.”
Almost 300 businesses responded to the latest survey on business activity before the referendum in the second quarter of the year.
Figures showed the outlook for manufacturers weakened but the wider economy was growing.
Skills remained a serious concern for business chiefs, who questioned the role of the education system in promoting economic growth.
Company recruiters noted a lack of applicants with the required skills or attitude and a lack of experience amongst recent graduates.
Key findings include:
:: Almost two-thirds (63%) of businesses experienced recruitment difficulties
:: More than half (55%) believed skills mismatch/shortage is hampering economic and business growth
:: Only 29% believed the literacy and numeracy level was sufficient to drive economic growth
:: A quarter felt there was a good match between graduate qualifications and business skills
:: Only 22% believed there were sufficient supports available for young people