Labour market improves but still ‘poor relative’ of GB regions

There is good employment news but still too much disappointing data when measured against rival regions
There is good employment news but still too much disappointing data when measured against rival regions

The number of people claiming unemployment benefit has fallen again but the province still trails other UK regions on important economic measurements.

Ten years after the property crash and banking crisis, economist Esmond Birnie said Northern Ireland had persistently failed to catch up with the rest of the county in terms of economic activity.

Dr Birnie’s comments come as data published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) showed there were 100 less people claiming unemployment benefit in February as the number of people in work increased to its joint highest figure in 10 years at 69.8%.

However, that rate is still significantly below the UK average of 75.3% and is the lowest of all 12 UK regions.

“Wednesday’s data from NISRA show continued decline in unemployment to 3.2% in the quarter November 2017-January 2018,” said Dr Birnie, senior economist at the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre.

“That is a record low and lower than the UK average of 4.3% .”

Comparable EU and Republic of Ireland figures were 7.3% and 6.2% respectively, he added.

The latest job growth figures were similarly up-beat with the the total number of employees growing by 15,090 or 2%.

Most sectors shared in that growth and there had even been some growth in manufacturing and the public sector.

“There are some good results but, just as we should not confuse a single day of good weather with Spring, there are grounds for caution.

“Ten years on from the banking crisis there is little sign of trend growth in Northern Ireland’s employment rate.

“If anything the gap relative to the UK average has widened,” Dr Birnie added.

“Northern Ireland’s economic inactivity rate remains close to 28% with a gap relative to the UK average of about seven percentage points, and we have yet to see the impact in the figures of the big job redundancies announced since the start of the year,” he said.