Survey reveals top worries for business in 2018

Being able to attract and retain key staff is the number one concern of businesses going into 2018, according to a survey by business group Dublin Chamber.

The survey, carried out amongst 210 companies, found that more than two thirds of firms (69 per cent) rank the retention and attraction of employees as an issue of high concern for 2018.

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Concerns about new GDPR data protection legislation - due to come into effect in May 2018 - provide the second biggest headache for firms. 62 per cent stated that they are highly concerned by how the new regulations will impact on their business.

One in four firms (23 per cent) said they felt their business is unprepared for GDPR. More encouragingly, 60 per cent said they feel ‘quite prepared’ for GDPR, while 11 per cent believed they were ‘very prepared’.

Traffic is expected to remain a big issue for firms in the year ahead. 53 per cent of firms said they were highly concerned about the impact of increasing congestion on their firm in 2018.

According to Dublin Chamber CEO Mary Rose Burke: "Irish businesses are in a relatively good place going in to 2018. However, this survey shows that there are a number of significant challenges that companies will need to overcome over the next 12 months. It's no surprise that fears over retaining and attracting good staff are top of mind.

"With the country edging ever closer to full employment, competition for talent continues to heat up. We see this both at a national and international level. We have some of the world's best staff working in Dublin, but keeping them here - and attracting more like them - has never been tougher."

Unsurprisingly, Brexit continues to occupy the minds of Irish business owners and managers. Around half of respondents (49 per cent) pinpointed Brexit as an issue they were highly concerned about over the coming 12 months.

Other issues highlighted by businesses in the survey included rising insurance costs (40 per cent), Euro/Sterling currency fluctuations (34 per cent), and Government instability (32 per cent).

Encouragingly for the Irish government, businesses are positive about how it has handled Brexit negotiations so far. Three quarters of firms rated the Government's performance in Brexit discussions as either 'good' or 'very good'. 20 per cent described the Government's performance as average, with just 4 per cent summing it up as 'poor' or 'very poor'.

However, businesses are more critical of the Government's performance in solving Dublin's infrastructure issues. 85 per cent said the Government was not doing enough to ease infrastructure pressures facing Dublin, while just 7 per cent said they were happy. Around 4 out of 5 firms (86 per cent) expect Dublin commute times to lengthen in 2018. Just 9 per cent said they do not anticipate longer commutes.

Ms Burke said: "Dublin is competing on a daily basis with other cities around the world and it is vital therefore that we ensure that Dublin is as attractive and as competitive as possible. This includes ensuring that Ireland's tax base is attractive and compares favourably with other cities, notably the UK cities.

"Measures must also be taken to continually improve the quality of life that's on offer in Dublin. Going into 2018, solving the housing crisis remains the number one challenge for Dublin. This also means planning and investing ambitiously in our transport network to ensure Dublin is easy to get around and offers short and consistent commute times."

The vast majority of firms are optimistic about 2018. More than 4 out of 5 firms (84 per cent) stated that they expect revenues to increase in 2018. Just 1 in 20 (5 per cent) indicated that they anticipate a drop in revenues in the year ahead. The other 11 per cent expect revenues to remain flat.

Companies are predicting that 2018 will be good for the bottom line too. Around three quarters (72 per cent) said they expect profits to increase in the coming 12 months. 18 per cent of respondents said they do not expect profits to rise.

Encouragingly, the anticipated uptick in revenues is likely to translate into new jobs being created. More than two thirds of respondents (68 per cent) said they hope to increase staff numbers in 2018. One quarter (25 per cent) said they do not anticipate staff numbers growing, while 6 per cent said they did not know.

But 2018 won’t be without its pressures. In terms of operating costs, just 8 per cent of firms are predicting a decrease in costs, with 76 per cent anticipating an increase.

Ms Burke said: "All the signs point to a positive 2018 for business, but huge challenges remain. Uncertainty around Brexit remains high and a successful outcome for Ireland will be pivotal in encouraging Irish firms to invest ambitiously in their business. While many firms state an ambition to add jobs over the coming year, they will require a stable and certain economic environment in order to actually create those positions.

"Over the course of 2018 it is likely that Irish firms will continue to attempt to insulate themselves from external shocks and from Brexit. This will see a number of firms look to expand their presence outside of Ireland and the UK by looking to new markets such as Asia. Dublin Chamber has already seen a sharp increase in the number of firms seeking to tap into the Asian market, with a 5-fold increase in the number of companies who will travel on our annual business mission to Hong Kong in mid-January 2018.

"There are huge opportunities for Irish firms in the Far East and we look forward to helping firms tap into them over the coming 12 months."

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