Northern Ireland businesses proved their resilience in 2020/2021

As the pandemic raged businesses in Northern Ireland demonstrated considerable resilience and grew their way through the crisis.

At the end of a four-year plan, some 36,828 additional jobs were generated between 2016 and 2020 by Northern Ireland businesses.

During this period the businesses saw a £4.1bn increase in total sales and a £1.1bn increase in export sales, Invest Northern Ireland said in its end-of-year report.

“Our £106m of support can generate £582m of investment into the local economy”

“2020-21 was the final year of our four-year business plan,” said Invest Northern Ireland CEO Kevin Holland.

“While the global pandemic significantly disrupted our final year priorities, I am pleased to report we still met four of our five final outturn targets so far, with good progress towards the Research and Development (R&D) investment target.”

Double whammy of Brexit and Covid-19

The outturn figures were compiled from KPI data collected from a cohort of over 1,700 businesses which Invest NI works with intensively.

Lockdown clearly took its toll on the local, national and global economies with the single year 2020 outturn figures showing a decline on previous years.

“However, even in the midst of the pandemic challenges and EU Exit uncertainties, many NI businesses demonstrated their resilience and ability to respond to last year’s economic challenges.

“We shared expertise and made over 3,000 offers of financial assistance during 2020-21 to support businesses to make strategic investment and growth commitments. These commitments ranged from job creation, investment in R&D or skills, or exports to new markets. Our £106m of support can generate £582m of investment into the local economy.”

In addition, the agency provided £5m of co-funding (including £3.7m ERDF) to the 11 councils under the Local Economic Development (LED) initiative of the EU Investment for Growth & Jobs Fund 2014-2020. This will help to deliver eight programmes to support the economic needs of each area, supporting around 8,000 businesses.

“Last year our support measures included our established schemes,” said Holland, “and also an additional nine, new dedicated Covid recovery schemes, ranging from equity investments to grants for businesses implementing efficiency, productivity and organisational improvements. At the end of the 2020-21 financial year, we had issued offers totalling nearly £6m of support to 443 businesses through these recovery schemes.”

Invest NI also redeployed significant resource to deliver five of the NI Executive emergency recovery schemes to a large number of businesses. At the end of the financial year, we had delivered £100m of emergency financial assistance to over 13,100 applicants.

In addition to financial assistance, the agency also provided free professional advice and guidance to businesses through its nibusinessinfo website, dedicated EU Exit team and business support phone line to any business in Northern Ireland.

“Between Covid and EU Exit we engaged with an additional 14,000 Northern Ireland businesses last year. Our Business Support Team received over 35,500 calls to our 0800 numbers and dealt with almost 11,000 email enquiries over 12 months in 2020-21. This call volume was a 600pc increase on a standard year, and at its peak the team was responding to circa 400 calls a day,” Holland added.

“Like most businesses this past year, Invest NI has had to adapt to a new environment. I am proud that the organisation has been able to continue strategic economic development projects and also deliver additional, much needed, help for businesses to address Covid and EU Exit. The team has worked exceedingly hard to maintain high standards of customer service and provide support for businesses to help grow our economy. We look forward to accelerating this work in the coming year.”

Invest Northern Ireland outturn figures

2017* 2018* 2019* 2020* Final Outturn

2017-2021 Business Strategy


Additional Jobs 10,987 9,298 8,886 7,658 36,828 30,000-40,000
All Sales (£bn) 1.7 1.6 1.3 -0.4bn £4.1bn £3.2-£4.2bn
External Sales (£bn) 1.3 1.4 1.0 -0.4bn £3.2bn £2.4-£3.1bn
Export Sales (£bn) 0.8 0.8 0.4 -0.9bn £1.1bn £0.8-£1.2bn
Increase in Business Expenditure on R&D (£m) 14.8 10.1 81.3m TBC** TBC** £160m – £200m

*Refers to the year in which the growth was recorded.

By John Kennedy (

Published: 21 July 2021