NI businesses anticipate ‘negative impact’ of Stormont impasse this year

Half of Northern Ireland’s business owners believe the lack of Stormont powersharing will hinder them this year, a survey has suggested.

Business owners have grown increasingly frustrated with the two-year political impasse and voiced concern about damage to regional investment and local decision-making.

Important work in Belfast harbour and improving the city’s transport as well as the roll-out of superfast broadband to more isolated areas have been held up.

Ann McGregor, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce which represents traders, said: “Throughout much of 2018, businesses were subjected to a barrage of political noise and drama so it is no surprise that Brexit, along with the lack of an Executive, are having an increasingly negative impact on business growth and investment plans.”

Ann McGregor, second from left, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce chief executive (NI Chamber/PA)

Some 23% of the Chamber’s members thought there would be some growth in the economy this year. Just over half (52%) felt it would contract.

This is much more pessimistic than shortly after the 2016 Brexit vote, when 43% of members thought the economy would grow the following year.

One in four firms expected their own business to shrink this year.

The majority (79%) felt the lack of an Executive would have a negative impact on the economy.

  • 23% of members expect growth in the economy this year
  • 53% predict the economy will contract
  • 45% expect their own firm to grow but a quarter feel it will shrink
  • 79% believe the lack of an Executive will have a negative impact
  • 52% believe the political stalemate has negatively affected their own firm

Economist Maureen O’Reilly said that when they went overseas, some businesses were “embarrassed” by the political impasse at Stormont.

Ms McGregor said the absence of ministers was having an increasingly negative impact on prospects for economic growth and prosperity and on society at every level – in schools, hospitals and on the streets.

She added: “For business, the priority must be to get an Executive back as soon as possible to implement an economic strategy and progress a number of key infrastructure projects that are currently being held up in their absence.

“These include the much needed Belfast Transport Hub; further investment projects in the harbour area including Grade A office space for inward investors, a new power station and the cruise ship terminal; the roll-out of superfast broadband and the North South Interconnector, to name a few.

“We cannot go any longer without these key decisions being made.”