Employment at record levels but threats remain to progress

Jobs in manufacturing, construction and services were rising at the end of 2018 but 2019 data suggests a change
Jobs in manufacturing, construction and services were rising at the end of 2018 but 2019 data suggests a change

Northern Ireland’s businesses are performing extremely well under the “perpetual threat of a no-deal Brexit and the continued absence of devolved government” a leading body has claimed.

Following the release of the latest Quarterly Employment Survey and Labour Market Report, Roger Pollen of the FSB in the province said firms deserved credit for their resilience.

“The two sets of economic data released today certainly paint a positive picture of the Northern Ireland economy with the employment rate at its highest on record, while the private sector jobs count is also at an all-time high, with increases over the quarter and the year across all four industry sectors measured,” he said.

“However, it would certainly be foolish to suggest that the ‘garden is rosy’ for small businesses.

“Their situation could be improved by agreement being reached to avoid a no-deal Brexit on March 29, while the return of a devolved Executive could create the conditions for action to be taken in crucial areas, such as enhanced rates relief, skills and infrastructure investment.”

Danske Bank chief economist Conor Lambe, said the data reinforced the message that the local labour market was in “relatively” good shape.

“The increase over the year was broad based with increases observed in the employment rate for both men and women and across all age categories within the working age population.

“The fall in the economic inactivity rate shown in the data is also a welcome development,” he added.

“In addition, the Quarterly Employment Survey data showed the number of jobs in the local economy is also at a record high with the number of jobs in the broad manufacturing, construction and services sectors all increasing at the end of last year.

“While this is all positive news, we must recognise the fact that the future performance of the local labour market will be heavily dependent on how the Brexit process evolves in the coming days.”

At Ulster Bank, chief economist for Northern Ireland , Richard Ramsey said the province had posted jobs growth for the past three years but warned that the peak may have been reached.

“Labour market statistics are a lagging indicator of economic activity. While we may see Northern Ireland post another record high for jobs in Q1, thereafter employment growth will be much more challenging.

“A wider economic slowdown is already in train in Europe.

“Furthermore, the UK economy is forecast to grow in 2019 at its weakest rate, outside of a recession, since 1990, assuming a smooth and orderly Brexit.

“As a result, it could well be last orders for Northern Ireland’s record employment highs”.