Having staved off a recession, business in Northern Ireland 'is now playing at top table'

IMPROVED BUSINESS RESILIENCE: Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Suzanne Wylie (left) with Brian Murphy from BDO NI and economist Maureen O’Reilly
IMPROVED BUSINESS RESILIENCE: Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Suzanne Wylie (left) with Brian Murphy from BDO NI and economist Maureen O’Reilly

NORTHERN Ireland hasn't just staved off a recession, but has seen most of its key business indicators turn from red to green in the last three months.

And not only has the positivity returned in sectors like services and manufacturing, but in some areas the region is competing in the top tier in the UK.

Findings in the latest quarterly economic survey (QES) report, produced by economist Maureen O'Reilly for the NI Chamber of Commerce and BDO NI, showed an all round improvement in business confidence along with signs that cost pressures are easing, particularly in energy.

But inflation is still a key concern according to the 188 Chamber member firms which responded to the latest QES, with field work being conducted between May 23 and June 9.

“Positive momentum and consistency are the order of the day, and businesses across Northern Ireland are clearly demonstrating both, according to Brian Murphy, managing partner at BDO NI.

“Considering the difficult conditions many organisations are operating in, achieving any degree of positive momentum really is remarkable and it shows that the business community is continuing to strive for sustainable economic growth.

“Confidence continues to grow, with 62 per cent of companies positive that turnover will grow in the next 12 months -up 15 per cent on the last quarter of 2022, demonstrating real-time progress.

“This is not to say that businesses are not under pressure, nor does it imply the challenges around recruitment, skills and costs have dissipated. But it does demonstrate is that businesses are learning to operate and grow while simultaneously dealing with a range of challenges.”

Among the other key findings, four in five respondents say their businesses are trading well or reasonably and 44 per cent are positive about the Windsor Framework’s potential impact on their business, but 74 per cent remain concerned about the impact of public spending cuts on the north's economy.

In the past, Northern Ireland has typically ranked among the bottom-performing UK regions across most of the QES key indicators.

But in this May-June period, it ranks in top four UK regions for nine of the 11 key indicators for manufacturing, where its highest regional ranking is second relating to investment intentions around plant and machinery.

In services, the north ranks as the top region for four of the 11 indicators, including employment activity in the last three months, investment intentions in both training and plant/machinery and confidence in turnover growth in the next 12 months.

NI Chamber's newly-appointed chief executive Suzanne Wylie said: “These findings clearly demonstrate the resilience of business through a protracted period of challenges.

“It is encouraging to see the stabilisation of business confidence in the first half of 2023, with a strong performance across so many indicators relative to other UK regions albeit that there remain significant challenges to growth in both the Northern Ireland and UK’s economies.

“But the most alarming aspect of the findings this quarter is the perceived impact of Stormont’s fiscal problems on the economy and individual firms.

“It serves as a timely reminder that a sustainably funded, functioning Executive is the missing piece in unlocking Northern Ireland’s potential and driving confidence and growth.”