Survey: People rather than the protocol the biggest issue for NI manufacturers

More manufacturers have adapted to the new trading post-Brexit arrangements, a new survey shows.
More manufacturers have adapted to the new trading post-Brexit arrangements, a new survey shows. More manufacturers have adapted to the new trading post-Brexit arrangements, a new survey shows.

A LACK of people rather than the Northern Ireland Protocol is the biggest issue for manufacturers in the north, a new survey suggests.

Industry body Manufacturing NI surveyed 163 firms in early January to gauge their experience 12 months on from introduction of the new post-Brexit trading arrangements in January 2021.

Almost 60 per cent said access to labour was their biggest issue, with 1,115 vacancies reported across the 163 respondents.

By contrast, almost two-thirds rated the protocol as their least challenging issue.

The latest in a series of surveys analysing industry attitudes to the protocol, it showed more companies are adapting to the new trade arrangements.

Some 65 per cent said they believe protocol is ‘here to stay’, but should be made to work better.

However, problems persist for some companies. One-in-four (24 per cent) said they are still struggling with the new Irish Sea arrangements.

Although that’s significantly down from the 41 per cent who reported the same in surveys conducted last July and April.

Manufacturing NI said while firms in Britain were given an additional one year, and in some cases 18 months to prepare for new import controls, Northern Ireland traders and those sending goods from GB to the north were given only a matter of days.

The industry body said it took some months for many businesses to understand the new processes, causing significant disruption at the start of 2021.

But, it said the problems have eased as firms adapted.

One year on, more than two-thirds of companies said they are experiencing no impact, are on top of the issues, or see them resolving soon.

More than half (57.7 per cent) of survey respondents said they continue to experience ‘some negative impact’ – down from 77 per cent in April 2021.

Manufacturing NI said it points to a lack of preparedness at both government and business level for what was introduced in January 2021.

It said the awareness, preparedness and willingness of GB suppliers continues to cause strain, with 20 per cent said their GB suppliers won’t entertain the new arrangements.

But with new import controls due to come into effect in Britain, the trade body said the exposure to customs formalities, may prompt a change in attitude.

While a rising number of firms said they see the north’s status under the protocol as an advantage, 34.4 per cent said disruption still persists.

Manufacturing NI said the UK and EU must agree on simplifications to ease burdens on these businesses.

Although two-thirds said they accept the new reality of the protocol, one-in-five (19.6 per cent) said they want it replaced. Although the survey is unclear on what they would prefer.

Manufacturing NI said those businesses tend to trade exclusively in Northern Ireland, or process goods and return to GB, so have all the disruption and costs and don’t have a recognisably significant EU supply chain.

Chief executive of Manufacturing NI, Stephen Kelly, said: “There is a strong desire for the protocol’s operation to be lighter touch by the UK and the EU agreeing simplifications which can secure competitiveness on both an economy wide and individual firm basis.

"This centres around why goods not destined for the EU need any controls; the costly burden of Supplementary Declarations; EU goods not freely circulating to NI if distributed via GB; and the system for goods subject to TRQs (tariff rate quotas) being unworkable."