Just 7% of small NI firms exporting outside UK and Ireland

Ulster Bank’s Lisa McCaul, centre, launches the boost initiative with entrepreneurs Emma Gribben and Tom Griffiths, at The Mac Belfast
Gareth McKeown

JUST one per cent of small businesses in the north are experiencing rapid growth, while just seven per cent are selling outside the UK and Ireland the latest research shows.

Ulster Bank's Boost Index has revealed the challenges for growth for small firms in Northern Ireland, with Brexit and the lack of a Stormont government among the major concerns.

The index, which charts the performance of local firms with between five and 50 employees across a range of sectors found that small business in Northern Ireland are currently in relatively good health, with almost half (46 per cent) having increased sales in the past 12 months, and most of the remainder (44 per cent) having seen sales stay the same.

More than one-fifth of firms (21 per cent) questioned said that they are experiencing moderate growth, with almost one-third (31per cent) seeing slight growth, and 38% describing their business as stable.

Just one per cent of those surveyed said their business was experiencing rapid growth, with Brexit and the lack of a Stormont Executive seen as two major obstacles to growth.

Competition in the market is seen as the biggest issue for business with 78 per cent citing it as a concern, while 62 per cent highlighted the potential impact of Brexit and 61 per cent concerned about the perceived lack of political stability in the north. Cost pressures were also cited as a barrier to growth.

In terms of potential growth 65 per cent of respondents said lower tax would provide a boost, while a better political environment and faster broadband were also highlighted.

The major research, which involved over 200 telephone interviews with the owners or directors of companies, and was carried out by Perceptive Insight in June 2017, further highlighted potential for growth through exports, with just seven per cent currently selling outside the UK and Ireland. Just less than a third of respondents (31 per cent) said they are selling into the Republic of Ireland, while 18 per cent said that they are selling into England, Scotland or Wales.

Business growth enabler at Ulster Bank Lisa McCaul said the figures highlighted a worrying trend in relation to exports.

"There is often a perception amongst small businesses that exporting is not for them, it is for larger businesses. But the reality is that exporting doesn't have to be complicated and could simply mean increasing sales a few percent by selling some product overseas online. Boost is designed to help small firms recognise and capitalise on those growth opportunities.”

Ulster Bank's Boost initiative is a new programme to help inspire small firms to grow.


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