Toughest year in business says Donegal's biggest town

Major challenges highlighted in Letterkenny Chamber's business survey

Toughest year in business says Donegal's biggest town

30% of businesses in Letterkenny have reported a reduction on turnover of between 50% and 74% since October last and looking to the end of the year many are pessimistic about their revenue forecasts with 28% expecting a 75% - 100% reduction in revenue

These are just some of the findings in a Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce Business Sentiment Survey for the first quarter of 2021.

Releasing the results on Sunday night, the chamber's chief executive, Toni Forrester said this has been the toughest year for businesses in a long time.

"Covid-19 came at a time when businesses were finally looking ahead after the long financial recession of the last decade."

She said over the last year Letterkenny Chamber has endeavoured to ensure businesses had as much information as possible; they have had many conversations with businesses and they felt it was time to gather data in a more scientific manner.

"So, to that end Letterkenny Chamber recently carried the first of its quarterly business sentiment surveys looking at a range of issues and with the intention of it becoming a quarterly initiative.

"The survey provides 'real' data that supports the sentiments that we hear everyday in the press and social media."

She added this survey will assist Letterkenny Chamber in its lobbying activities now and post Covid-19 and enable them to ensure we are listening to business.

Across the sectors the survey asked about topics such as concerns and risks, impact on turnover, cashflow implications and staffing.

It also attempted to get a feel for how the business adapted under the restrictions to keep revenue coming in and ensure their brand remained relevant.

It should be noted that 30% of businesses that responded are still closed and 7% of those are not prepared for re-opening.

When asked about issues and risks that businesses have, many voiced concerns about a domestic recession, various sectors are concerned about staff returning and Brexit is still high on the agenda. 75% are worried about a domestic recession and 50% are concerned about a post Brexit impact.

The majority of businesses that responded reported that turnover since October 31, 2020, has been reduced with 30% reporting a reduction on turnover of between 50% and 74%.

In looking ahead to the end of the year many are pessimistic about their revenue forecasts with 28% expecting a 75% - 100% reduction in revenue.

The survey also revealed that staffing is an issue in varying ways across all sectors. 8.9% have laid off staff permanently however in Hospitality and Retail this increases to 14% and 17.7% respectively and of course temporary layoffs are much higher in these sectors.

From the outset of the pandemic the Government acted quickly to offer business supports that were taken up by many businesses over the past year.

Over 60% have availed of the Wage Subsidy Schemes, 54% took up the Restart Grant and there was also good uptake of the Business Continuity Grants and Trading Online supports administered by the Local Enterprise Office.

However, in the survey we found that 73% of respondents do not want to take on any new debt with just 1.3% availing of the Microfinance and SBCI Loans.

"The Chamber and many commentators often quote that our business community is resilient in a crisis and the survey asked how businesses had adapted.

"64.5% have an online presence through a new or updated website and 52% are now active on social media.

"In many sectors particularly Education and Skills and Professional Services over 80% have developed their websites and now use video conferencing, provide webinars and now offer digital consults to clients.

"They have reacted quickly and decisively to keep their customer base and ensure revenue streams.

Ms Forrester added she would like to acknowledge the help and support of LYIT in this process. The compilation of the survey and results was carried out by a LYIT Masters Student, Yawer Mehdi, who has been on placement with the Chamber.

"We were also supported throughout the process by Dr Isobel Cunningham, LYIT Business Faculty. Their help and support over the past months has enabled us to bring the survey to reality and provides a foundation for future reports.”

Commenting on the survey, Michael Margey, president of Letterkenny Chamber, said overall this survey shows that businesses have proven throughout this health crisis that they are strong and adaptable.

"They have by and large remained optimistic that business will return, and they will be able to re-open safely and continue to provide job opportunities.

"Over this past year we have seen businesses support their staff and each other in ways we didn’t think possible, and we hope this spirit of co-operation will remain over the coming years.”

He added people are of course frustrated and are keen to get back out doing what they love best in welcoming customers back and opening their doors, but they are also demanding a clear plan from the leaders in Government in terms of the path to re-opening the economy and of averting any further periods of restrictions.

 

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