More than half of Ireland’s businesses are in decline following Covid-19 lockdowns, according to cross-Border trade body Intertrade Ireland.
The latest results from InterTradeIreland’s Business Monitor (Q2 2020) make for stark if unsurprising reading. It quantifies and puts into perspective the massive disruption and strain caused by Covid-19 across the island.
Before the pandemic, 42% of businesses said they were in growth mode; this has now dropped to 15%. More worryingly, the number of businesses across the island that are in decline has jumped from 7% and now stands at 53%. The dizzying speed of contraction is unprecedented and points to the rapid action needed to help combat the spread of Covid-19.
The report went on to state in terms of employment, 23% of businesses say their staff levels have decreased. This figure is reminiscent of the Business Monitor’s results in Q4 2009, when the island was gripped by recession. The immediate economic shockwave caused by Covid-19 is having a similar impact in the short-term on jobs as the ’08/09 downturn on the island. In addition, the effects of the pandemic are being felt right across the globe, with no economy immune.
Mentioned also is that Covid-19 touches every aspect of economic life, it has hastened the adaption of certain technologies and practices, however there is a risk that smaller businesses could be left behind. The Business Monitor illustrates that there is a digital divide between larger firms and micro SMEs that Covid-19 has exposed. 70% of firms with less than ten staff say that employees have no access to emails or company files and documents. For larger firms this drops to 37%. I personally think this is quite a shocking figure and shows how backward some small and medium Irish firms are in relation to IT.
Aidan Gough, Designated Officer, InterTradeIreland says, “There is a recognition from policy makers that SMEs need to be digitally enabled to meet the demands of this new environment. InterTradeIreland’s E-merge programme can assist cross-border SMEs to develop and improve their on-line sales and e-commerce solutions to allow them to continue to compete and explore new opportunities.”
As regards remote working Northern Ireland is further behind Ireland, with 18% of staff working from home compared to 41% of employees in Ireland. For businesses that trade across the border, 38% of staff are working from home.
The firms surveyed recognise the need to grow their digital skills base with over one in ten indicating they needed to enhance their abilities in this area. For the first time, risk-assessment skills were also identified as in-demand, with 22% of companies indicating they need to increase talent in this area.
InterTradeIreland’s Business Monitor also does highlight the resilience of firms across the island, with 73% of firms reporting they are planning to re-hire staff. In terms of the biggest barriers to recovery, SMEs citied maintaining social distance with customers (41%) and the ability to provide service in a way that is profitable because of social distancing (34%). This was most marked in the leisure hotel and catering sector (69%) but it is an issue for just under a third of professional service firms (31%).
Brexit also remains a huge challenge, with the number of businesses that have made plans standing at only 14% and 30% for cross-border traders. Of those companies that have made preparations, over a third (37 % ) say they will now need to revise their plans in light of Covid-19.
Aidan Gough says “Businesses have been focusing on surviving and directing resources to adapting to the new landscape caused by Covid-19. However it is also important not to lose sight of the fact that Brexit is another once in a generation issue that is looming on the horizon. If there is anything that Covid-19 has shown us, it’s the importance of assessing risk and responding properly. We know that businesses have remarkable resilience, but it’s important not to be complacent around Brexit. InterTradeIreland has a number of supports and resources in place to help SMEs mitigate risk and adapt to thrive in a post-Brexit world.” concludes Gough.