New FSB regional chair 'will fight to keep small businesses afloat'

Alan Lowry, managing director of Environmental Street Furniture, has been appointed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) to chair of its NI policy board
Gary McDonald Business Editor

OWNERS of hundreds of small and micro business in the north are girding themselves for a potential tsunami of failures not necessarily of their own making, the incoming chair of the FSB's Northern Ireland policy board fears.

And Alan Lowry insists the 6,000-strong membership organisation is “doing everything we can to represent their interests and to help keep their businesses afloat.”

Mr Lowry is chief executive of Environmental Street Furniture, and he brings a wealth of relevant experience to the role and an ability to understand the key issues on which FSB members want the organisation to engage.

The appointment was made by FSB’s UK chair of policy and advocacy Tina McKenzie, who previously held the Northern Ireland role for four years before being elected to the organisation’s top UK role.

He told the Irish News: “Businesses are under immense pressure at the moment, as are households and other areas of society, so it's vital we all play our part in bringing forward constructive and realistic proposals to move us forward.

“We have a new incoming government at Westminster with Liz Truss as prime minister and probably a new secretary of state in 48 hours, but still none here at Stormont.

“Clearly, a satisfactory resolution to the challenges arising from the operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol is central to unlocking other political progress, so I look forward to ensuring that the voice of small businesses is a powerful one in the conversations that are needed.”

He added: “We'll work with whoever we have to as we try to get solutions for micro, small and medium sized businesses as we enter this perfect storm right now of spiralling energy costs, soaring inflation and issues around the protocol.

“People tend to forget that small businesses have had many challenges before, like Brexit and coronavirus. But this energy crisis, the cost of debt, and the cost of living crisis have presented certainly a much bigger challenge than I've seen in the last 10 years.”

At a board meeting yesterday to ratify his appointment, Mr Lowry revealed that one of the FSB members specialising in insolvency admitted that he had been receiving record numbers of inquiries from companies trying to refinance and restructure their business to stay afloat.

“When you hear that, and you see things on social media about energy bills rising by thousands of pounds in just month, it underlines the monumental scale of the problem,” he added.

“But there's an awful lot of things beyond energy that is impacting our members. VAT is another real issue, as is national insurance rises coming down the line.

“We'll not be able to fix everything, but are pressing hard where we can, for instance working with local councils on prompt payment, making sure they pay small businesses on time, because it's sometimes just about simple things like cash flow, and having enough money at the end of the month to pay your staff or pay your suppliers, that can stop a business from having to close its doors.”

Mr Lowry's predecessor in the role Tina McKenzie said: “Alan served on the FSB NI policy board during my tenure as its chair and was a strong contributor to FSB’s policy development.

“His experience extends from starting a business, to becoming an employer, to taking on an apprentice, to acquiring other businesses, to exporting to over 25 countries and winning the Queen’s Award for Export, as well as many other awards.

“All of this experience supported his suitability for the role but, beyond that, his understanding of effective political engagement and how to raise issues in a way that gets results, is what makes him an excellent representative for the wider FSB membership in Northern Ireland.”