Northern Ireland Outlook 2024

2024 Outlook: Northern Ireland

Putting your best foot forward.

See the big picture

Fuelled by strong exports and a more settled external environment, businesses across Northern Ireland should benefit from continued economic growth and investment into the region throughout 2024.

Adrian Doran

Head of Corporate Banking Northern Ireland, Barclays Corporate Banking

Getting the best of both worlds

I’m delighted to see that Northern Ireland has recently been outperforming other UK regions in terms of productivity, earnings growth, employment levels and other economic metrics, whereas historically we have often been at the bottom of the league tables. From a business perspective, our post-Brexit position gives us the ‘best of both worlds’, with easy access to the EU and UK markets. This is likely to continue fuelling investment and growth across the region in 2024.

Our unique post-Brexit arrangements are helping to strengthen our manufacturing exporters in particular, and I see no reason why exports won’t continue to do well into 2024, continuing the trend we saw in 2023.

Confronting the labour shortage

Although we welcome the growth in our manufacturing and export sectors, it will undoubtedly compound the workforce dilemma in the year ahead. Unemployment levels in Northern Ireland are declining to record levels, making it increasingly tricky for some of our clients to attract talent and fill positions. While most regions and countries are currently struggling with this challenge, it’s particularly acute in Northern Ireland, given its small size and some of our larger sectors’ – for instance agri-foods and healthcare in particular – historical reliance on migrant EU labour.

Talking to all types of businesses across the region, it appears that the pandemic and rise of hybrid and remote working mean that many of our highly skilled talent that previously moved to Great Britain for work opportunities are now returning home. This trend is also having positive knock-on effects on the economy, including on house prices.

The labour shortage is a complex and multifaceted issue, made worse by the skills drain. Our local universities are capped on the number of local students they can take, who are then forced to move to GB or ROI to study and often end up staying there. This “brain drain” is a big challenge for individual businesses and for the NI economy as a whole.

Adrian Doran

Head of Corporate Banking, Northern Ireland, Barclays Corporate Banking

Developing as a dynamic business hub

Northern Ireland’s highly skilled labour, world-class universities, competitive operating costs and unique trading environment have also been helping to attract businesses and investment from across the globe in recent months. It’s great to see the region emerging as a leading hub for both technology and professional services, with several top financial and professional services firms setting up large operations in recent years, and I expect this trend to go from strength to strength throughout 2024.

We’ve recently had two very successful investment summits organised by the UK and US governments, and I’m sure Foreign Direct Investment will continue to be a key feature of our market in 2024. Important in this will be the return of our own devolved government – we know foreign investors see political stability as a pre-requisite for any significant investment.

I also expect Northern Ireland – and Belfast in particular – to continue to cement its position as a technology hub, as evidenced by the number of innovative start-ups based in the city. We’ve seen an uptick in investment from US cyber-security companies looking to set up operations in Belfast and I expect this to only increase in 2024, given that fraud continues to be a high-priority challenge for all types and sizes of businesses. 

Key takeaways

Tap into innovative finance solutions

Barclays has partnered with UK Export Finance (UKEF) to develop various innovative finance solutions for export businesses – whether they’re new to it or want to expand their reach. Last year we were able to help a number of clients access significant levels of export financing, and I’m sure the same will continue in the coming year.

Get the most out of automation

The labour shortage is forcing many businesses to invest in streamlining and automating their operations, which not only helps to increase efficiencies and meet demand, but can support their ESG transition.

Make ESG everybody’s business

No longer regarded as a concern just for large organisations, SMEs will increasingly need to be prioritising ESG as good for business, in anticipation of increasing pressure from their customers to ensure more sustainable supply chains.

Keeping fraud front of mind

Fraudsters are as active as ever, impersonating our colleagues and attempting to defraud our clients. To help protect you and your business we have a wealth of resources available. You can view our quarterly fraud webinars and take a look at our other educational resources on our Fraud Protection Hub.

Remember, Barclays will never:

Ask you to make payments or move money to a ‘safe’ account

Call and ask you to provide or enter your PIN or use your biometric device, for any reason

Take control of your computer.

Get in touch

Request a call back from our team and see how we can help you develop strategies for managing your business.

Under £6.5million (please visit https://www.barclays.co.uk/business-banking/‡ or call 0800 515 462)

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