Barometer reveals micro businesses distress and urges 'integrated enterprise strategy'

Enterprise NI chief executive Michael McQuillan and economist Maureen O’Reilly launch the findings of the 2020 enterprise barometer
Enterprise NI chief executive Michael McQuillan and economist Maureen O’Reilly launch the findings of the 2020 enterprise barometer

SMALL, micro and self-employed businesses in the north have been most negatively impacted by Covid-19, and almost all fear the Brexit fall-out will be a further kick in the teeth.

The findings come from Enterprise NI in its 2020 Enterprise Barometer, which gauged the views of 600 micro enterprises (less than 10 employees), small businesses (less than 49 employees) and the self-employed, which represent 99.2 per cent of the region's economy.

And the authors of the report insist there must be "an integrated enterprise and entrepreneurship strategy" at the heart of all future economic planning and decision-making in Northern Ireland.

Some 85 per cent of respondents admitted being badly hit, with cash flow and liquidity at the forefront of business owners’ minds.

Seven in 10 businesses reported a decrease in turnover in the last 12 months, compounded by an underlying concern from businesses who borrowed money to survive the global crisis, with one in five extremely concerned around their ability to pay back business debt.

And as concerns about Brexit loom, just one in 25 of respondents (4 per cent) say they expect a positive impact, with only one in five businesses preparing and 55 per cent saying they don’t know where to get help and guidance.

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

“The barometer has also given businesses the opportunity to clearly state the support they urgently need if we are going to give the local economy any chance of recovery.

“It's critical we now listen to what they've told us, act now and provide the support they need, because these small businesses the bedrock of our economy, generating a pipeline of bigger exporting businesses and the supply and service chains for our FDI businesses.”

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

“A comprehensive and immediate response these struggling businesses is necessary - getting the support they need on to the ground and easily accessible.

“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.”

Economist Maureen O’Reilly, who led on the barometer research, said: “The survey has given an eye-opening snapshot of the struggles of this vital sector, highlighting the tremendous pressure on start-ups and early start businesses specifically, who are struggling most in the current difficult climate.”

ENI chairman Nick O’Shiel added: “More than 3,000 early-stage and established micro and small businesses engage with us on a weekly basis, so we are uniquely placed to reach out to the sector, and the Enterprise Barometer paints telling and accurate picture of the state of this sector using information gathered at the coal face.”