The final economic trends survey of 2020 captures the sentiment of the Cork business community during October, November and December, a time when we moved into Ireland’s second level 5 lockdown, while also the final quarter ahead of concluding the EU-UK transition period. The survey reports on business experiences, the outlook on the first quarter of 2021, the year ahead, and the overall operating landscape in the context of Brexit and Covid, while also exploring business resilience and sustainability, and the activities being adopted to address these critical considerations.
Cork Chamber President, Paula Cogan, commenting on the latest results, “It’s been an incredibly tough 2020 on businesses in the region, and while we’re certainly not there yet, it’s very encouraging to see 83% of businesses reporting confidence, up from 68% in the previous quarter. The very positive news on vaccines has given a much-needed boost to our business community at a time when their resilience is being tested to the core, as we entered the level 5 restrictions at the outset of 2021. The commercial rates waiver announcement for Q1 2021 is very welcome for those businesses most severely impacted, however concerns persist around the overly narrow focus of the qualifying criteria. We will continue to engage with Government on this aspect of the waiver, while also urging the earlier confirmation on such measures to support businesses in their efforts to manage the uncertainty and plan activities over the forthcoming months.”
Ms Cogan added, “Across the Chamber network we have been calling for an expansion to the CRSS supports to support the non-public facing businesses impacted by COVID and struggling to stay solvent. The recent announcement of the COVID Business Aid Scheme comes not a minute too soon. While more clarity is needed on the details of the scheme and we urgently need to see this up and running, we are encouraged by the announcement. The next number of weeks and months are crucial for so many businesses and every effort must be made to support them to keep the lights on and people employed. Our latest survey shows 43% of respondents reporting a decrease to business turnover in Q4 2020, up from 9% for the same quarter in 2019. Government must proactively support our business community. We cannot afford any complacency.”
Ms. Cogan continued, “We are in an unparalleled situation with a multitude of simultaneous global events needing to be addressed collectively, succinctly and with determination, Covid-19, Brexit and Climate Change. It is through working together and collaborating that we can go forward and build back better, to take hold of Brexit opportunities while meeting the challenges, and to work to increase sustainability and drive down our carbon emissions. With sustainability in mind, it is increasingly important for businesses to explore all aspects of sustainability. Our survey explored areas for long-term resilience planning among respondents and the top cited activity was ‘exploring how to become a greener business’, followed by ‘engaging and educating employees on sustainability’. Though a significant number also highlight this as not being a business priority currently. Exploring sustainability can deliver business opportunities, and we encourage businesses to engage in this space and to embed sustainability as a key consideration across business operations and activities. On Brexit, 38% indicate their businesses will be affected by the increased cost of sourcing products/supplies from the UK post Brexit, or VAT charges, with the issues of customs delays now presenting as particularly challenging. Everything must be done to support businesses affected by Brexit.”
Pat Horgan, Head of SME Banking with Ulster Bank commented, “It’s encouraging to see a marked improvement reported on confidence in the Irish economy, with 55% of respondents noting their confidence, up from 29% in the previous quarter. There is also a notable decrease in those reporting as not confident, now at 43%, down from 71% in the previous quarter. Though COVID-19 remains the overwhelming threat to business growth, and we are certainly not out of the woods yet, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. At Ulster Bank we are supporting our business customers every day, by working with them, listening to them, and lending to them. We are very pleased to continue our support for the Cork Chamber Economic Trends Survey and the Cork business community.”
The responding businesses represent a broad range of sectors: Life Sciences & Manufacturing (9%), Agriculture, Food & Drinks (2%); ICT & Digital Economy (8%), Tourism, Hospitality, Retail & Leisure (14%), Culture, Arts, Community & Media (4%), Built Environment (9%), Education & Training (4%), Services (including Financial) (41%), Health (3%), Transport, Energy & Maritime (6%)
Cork Chamber is the leading business organisation in Cork supporting and representing 1,200 businesses employing over 100,000 people in the region.
The Cork Chamber Economic Trends Survey is sponsored by Ulster Bank. With over 180 years of heritage Ulster Bank Ireland DAC is a full-service Retail and Commercial Bank, focused on serving the needs of 1.1m customers in the Republic of Ireland. Ulster Bank leverages the scale, capabilities, and investment capacity of RBS to deliver a superior service proposition to its customers. Investments in technology, brand and people support these goals, to ensure that Ulster Bank remains at the forefront of Irish banking in a changing and competitive market