Companies upbeat over the outlook for business in 2012

Businesses in Northern Ireland have the most positive attitude in the UK about their region’s business potential, according to a survey.Barclays Corporate said 77% of businesses surveyed here thought Northern Ireland would be a better place to do business by 2021.Over two-thirds of firms said they were looking forward to “steady and sustained” growth in Northern Ireland in the next decade.

Among all 660 UK business leaders quizzed for the research, there was agreement that there would be more foreign ownership of UK companies and assets in the next 10 years.

Just under 90% thought technology was the area most likely to fuel economic growth in Northern Ireland, followed by hospitality and tourism and manufacturing.

Adrian Doran, head of Barclays Corporate in Northern Ireland, said: “It is very encouraging that many businesses believe in the fundamental strength of Northern Ireland as a place to do business, and hopefully underlines that many of the challenges we are currently experiencing are temporary rather than permanent.

“It is also telling to see that locally based businesses are more positive about their region than the UK as a whole, showing the importance of regional development.”

He said the province had attracted less foreign direct investment than the UK as a whole and than the Republic.

“The next few months are crucial for us as we await the Treasury’s response on the proposal to cut corporation tax. If carried through, this would likely have a major impact on Northern Ireland’s attraction as a location for foreign direct investment.” Meanwhile, over a quarter of UK small businesses are “only just surviving,” according to invoice finance provider Bibby Financial Services.

One in four business owners said trading conditions in the UK were worse now than one year ago. Over one third said they did not expect the economy to recover for three years.

Nick McCafferty, regional manager for Bibby Financial Services Northern Ireland, said: “With murmurs of an impending second ‘credit crunch’ rife, it looks like Northern Ireland businesses are in for a bumpy ride.”

Mr McCafferty said firms should consider invoice finance as a way of maintaining cash flow. He added: “While the UK government has pledged its support, through initiatives such as Project Merlin, which has – as reported earlier this month – lent £37.4bn against the annual target of £76bn to small and medium-sized businesses, the fact that overall 80% of businesses throughout the UK did not apply for external funding over the past 12 months is a worrying indictment of firms’ financial confidence and a problem that needs addressing.”