Research Report

The impact of Covid-19 pandemic on Northern Ireland SMEs: Evidence and comparison with the rest of the UK

ERC Research Report


QueensUniversityBelfast, ERC

Associated Themes
  • COVID-19
  • Productivity and performance

The Northern Ireland economy experienced a severe impact as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The NI Composite Economic Index (NICEI), a broadly equivalent measure to GDP, has shown that economic output in NI fell by 14 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, the largest fall in the NICEI since it began records back in 2006. Even though it has increased by 15.5 per cent in quarter 3 of 2020, it is believed that the third national lockdown at the beginning of 2021 will deepen the impact. As claimed by a recent BBC report, the NI economy is expected to experience a challenging first quarter of 2021.

It is crucial therefore to have a better understanding of how the economy has coped with this uncertain and challenging period, especially for the part that is considered to be most severely affected: small and medium enterprises (SMEs). As reported by Enterprise Northern Ireland (ENI) in December 2020, 85% of small, micro and self-employed businesses have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this report, we provide some insights into how Northern Ireland’s SMEs have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, based on data from the latest wave of ONS BICS and the new ERC Business Futures Survey. The latter aims to understand the experiences of SMEs over the past 12 months, including the impact of Covid-19, with the survey undertaken across the UK at the end of 2020. Six key findings arise from the research: