NW golf and film firms struggle despite hype

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Despite hype over Game of Thrones and Northern Ireland’s Holy Trinity of A-list golfers, two innovative Londonderry companies have been forced to lay off dozens of workers collectively due to unavoidable external factors in recent months.

Senior Invest NI officials circulated ‘bad news notices’ concerning two firms - Golfstoreeurope Ltd. and 360 Production Limited. - in February and March.

The opportunities arising from the decision by the producers of the HBO-hit series Game of Thrones to film here and the world-wide renown of major winners Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell have been regularly touted by members of the Northern Ireland Executive.

An Assembly commission report delivered this year also said “Northern Ireland couldn’t be better placed to capitalise on exactly those two forms of tourism right now” and that “golf tourism and film tourism are both highly lucrative forms of tourism that we must develop and plan

for in a more strategic way.”

However, Invest NI documents show that the aforementioned Londonderry enterprises, capitalising on the burgeoning film and golf sectors, have still struggled.

360 Productions Limited. was badly hit when the BBC reduced commissions and was forced to make several lay offs.

Meanwhile, Golfstoreeurope Limited.’s export potential was battered by the strength of Sterling against the Euro and was forced to close at the end of Ferbuary.

George McKinney, the Director of Invest NI’s Technology and Services Division, wrote to the then Trade Minister Arlene Foster and her Special Advisor Andrew Crawford on February 11 breaking the bad news about 360, which with offices in Londonderry and London was founded by John Farren in December 2008 as a joint venture with Tim Haines of Impossible Pictures.

In the letter he advised: “Invest NI has been informed that the promoters of 360 Production Limited intend to make 12 redundancies over the next three months at the company’s Londonderry and London offices.

“The Company currently employs 17 with nine redundancies to be made in Londonderry and three in the London office.

“The Company has stated this is a direct result of significant reduction in work commissioned by the BBC.”

A month later Ms Foster and Mr Crawford received more bad news from Invest NI’s Growth and Scaling Division Director, Ian Murphy, who on March 6 advised that Golfstoreeurope, an online golf equipment firm based here, had ceased trading following the voluntary appointment of a liquidator and had laid off the entire workforce of 23 employees.

He advised the firm commenced trading in Springtown in 2006 as Total Golf but in 2009 had moved largely to online sales with huge success, turnover rising from £1.3m in 2010 to £4.3m in 2013.

“The recent strength of Sterling against the Euro in this highly competitive narrow-margin sector, made it increasingly difficult for the company to achieve the level of sales required to sustain its overhead base.

“The director raised finance personally in an effort to keep the business funded and also gave up the rented property at Pennyburn to cut costs.”

Sadly, however, poor trading conditions led to cashflow issues, insolvency and closure, Mr Murphy advised.