IntertradeIreland: Business Uncertainty Not Confined To Brexit

Firms in Northern Ireland and the Republic are starting to feel the pressure - and Brexit isn't all they're worried about, according to a cross-border trade body.

The latest Business Monitor from InterTradeIreland shows that the UK's pending divorce from the EU accounts for around 44% of concerns, but a number of other factors are also at play.

36% of small-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are under pressure due to rising costs, while cash flow is an issue for 32% of firms. In addition, one in five are struggling to recruit workers with the appropriate skills, a persistent issue for larger companies which holds the potential to stunt business growth.

As Brexit dominates both the political and business landscape, many firms in the region are continuing to operate in an environment of uncertainty. This is particularly true for cross-border traders and has been put into sharp focus by their performance in the last quarter of 2018. Only 37% reported growth in the period of Oct-December 2018, down from 52% a year ago.

Generally, businesses that export tend to be the most resilient, innovative and adaptable. The cross-border market is now worth £6bn/€7bn. InterTradeIreland plans to monitor the health of cross-border business closely over the coming months.
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While Britain and the EU continue to negotiate the terms of a withdrawal agreement, the uncertainty is also having a dampening effect on business investments. Only 14% of firms plan to invest in new plant or equipment. Worryingly only 4% are considering spending money on R&D or new product development. This is consistent with businesses holding back until the terms of the new trading relationship with Britain and the EU become clear.

Colm Gribben from Viltra Wastewater Technology said: "We survived the crash in 2007/ 2008, and it was crucial for us to be able to diversify by exploring the cross-border market and introducing new products. Our business is growing, however the back-drop of Brexit does make us nervous at the moment. We have started planning and have identified areas of risk and opportunity. I would encourage all businesses to do the same. We are hesitant to take any big decisions until the outcome of Brexit is known."

Aidan Gough, InterTradeIreland's Designated Officer and Director of Strategy and Policy added: "Business is facing many challenges and a high degree of uncertainty. While we recognise this makes planning difficult we encourage businesses, particularly cross-border traders, to take a deep dive into their supply chains and logistics operations. SMEs need to assess if they are ready to deal with the bureaucracy surrounding customs and tariffs and to be aware of the regulations that govern their market and the impact of any changes."

Firms are advised to make use of InterTradeIreland's Brexit Advisory Service, which offers bespoke help and assistance for SMEs, including a £/€2,500 Brexit Start to Plan Voucher, which allows individual firms to work with an approved panel of experts to devise a tailored action plan.

The cross-border body has been helping small businesses in Northern Ireland and Ireland over the last 20 years to explore new cross-border markets, and develop new products, processes and services in order to become investor ready.


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