Survey paints a picture of what might have been

Chamber CEO Ann McGregor, second left, with, from left, Chris Morrow, Chamber, Maureen O'Reilly QES economist and Brian Murphy of BDO
Chamber CEO Ann McGregor, second left, with, from left, Chris Morrow, Chamber, Maureen O'Reilly QES economist and Brian Murphy of BDO

A survey indicating that businesses across the province enjoyed a more positive end to 2016 after an initial, largely negative, reaction to Brexit has highlighted growing concerns in the sector at the latest political events.

Amid a fresh wave of frustration following the resignation of Martin McGuinness and the ensuing political upheaval, the latest Quarterly Economic Survey from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NI Chamber), suggests that the majority of businesses were positive about prospects for their business in 2017.

More than 62% said they expect their business to grow while just 20% expect it to contract. .

However, given the very real likelihood of fresh elections just seven months after the last ones, Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor CEO said the uncertainty was unlikely to help the business community sustain its optimism.

“This paints a really very positive picture of business confidence as we set out into 2017,” said Ms McGregor.

“The unfortunate and frustrating thing is that it appears to be a picture of what might have been as opposed to what might be as we face another election and yet more upheaval.”

Produced with business enss advisors BDO, the survey showed that most key balances strengthened during Q4 for both manufacturing and services after what had been a poor Q3 performance.

All of the 14 key services balances improved over the 3-month period and 9 of the 14 in manufacturing.

It revealed that the province’s regional position also improved in Q4 having felt the initial fallout from the Brexit vote more keenly than most other UK regions.

However, it showed businesses are less optimistic about prospects for the Northern Ireland economy as a whole - prior to the crisis - with 42% expecting it to grow marginally in 2017 while 37% expect it to contract.

It added that two-thirds of members in both the manufacturing and the service sectors have experienced high levels of difficulties when trying to recruit new staff over the last three months.

Commenting after the resignation announcement Chamber president Nick Coburn, CEO of major exporter Ulster Carpets, warned of a “very deep sense of frustration at the instability which now characterises our political institutions”.

“The hope and optimism which greeted the Fresh Start Agreement has dissipated,” he said.

“Business confidence stalled because of the uncertainty regarding the impact of Brexit and the potential risks to export and inward investment resulting from the change of the US Administration. The current political situation adds to this uncertainty and will have a negative impact on economic and social development.”