A survey of more than 100 Belfast Chamber members has revealed how a real jobs crisis is looming in the city.

Almost half of Belfast Chamber members have already had to make staff redundant as a result of the economic damage done by COVID-19 and 45% expect that they will have to make further redundancies in the next 6 months.

Business confidence is also at a low with just shy of 2/3 of respondents saying that they are somewhat concerned or very concerned about the future of their businesses.

Commenting on the survey findings, Belfast Chamber Chief Executive Simon Hamilton said, “We have known since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that we are the midst of an interlinked public health and economic emergency.  This latest survey of Belfast Chamber members shows the scale of the jobs crisis we are facing and just how serious the situation is could get for many workers in the city.

Our members are reporting really serious issues including a collapse in sales of in excess of 50% for 4 out of 10 businesses.  This is then having a knock-on effect on their cash flow situation with nearly 1 in 5 businesses reporting that they have no cash reserves left.  It is little wonder that business confidence is so low with almost 2/3 of Belfast Chamber members telling us that they are somewhat concerned or very concerned about the very future of their businesses.

The most troubling conclusion from our survey is the very clear jobs crisis that is looming.  Nearly half of Belfast Chambers have already made redundancies because of the impact that COVID-19 and the range of restrictions placed upon them by the Executive to stop the spread of the virus.  Across the members surveyed, that adds up to several hundred people who are now out of work.  This isn’t just statistics.  They are our family, our friends, our neighbours who have lost their jobs and now face a very uncertain future. 

What’s worse is that businesses are bracing themselves for further redundancies with 45% of respondents saying that they anticipate more job losses in the next 6 months.  Close to one-third of Belfast businesses believe that their employee needs will be more than 25% lower than they were before the pandemic in just 6 months’ time.  The pandemic combined with the lockdowns imposed on our members is resulting in a real-life jobs crisis in our city.

This survey serves to underscore the urgent need for the Executive to chart a different course than lockdown after lockdown and closing whole sectors of our economy over and over again.  That strategy isn’t killing off the virus, but it is killing off jobs.  Belfast Chamber welcomes recent public statements by the First Minister and deputy First Minister where they have both outlined a desire to find a way to live with the virus and better balance the protection of lives and livelihoods.  Businesses in our city and across the region are more than willing to play their part in suppressing the spread of COVID19 and we would encourage Ministers to work much more closely with industry.  Without a proper partnership approach and a brand new strategy, we are genuinely worried about how many businesses will close in the coming months and how many people will lose their jobs.  The Executive still has an opportunity to act and avert a devastating jobs crisis”.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • Fewer than half of businesses in Belfast (49%) are open as normal with 16% closed completely due to recent restrictions
  • 42% of members report that turnover is down by more than half and 40% believe that sales will be reduced by over 50% in the next 3 months
  • Over half of businesses (52%) have less than 3 months cash reserves in place with 18% reporting they have none
  • 47% of businesses have already had to make redundancies as a result of the impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions imposed on their ability to trade
  • 45% expect that they will have to make further redundancies in the next 6 months
  • 29% of respondents believe that their employment needs in just 6 months time will be more than ¼ lower than their pre-pandemic levels
  • Almost 2/3 (64%) of Belfast Chamber members are somewhat concerned or very concerned about the future of their business