Belfast Telegraph

Ulster's hard-hit economy needs something to build on

Talk about playing catch-up. While the economy of every other region of the UK is growing, our own still looks like it's got a slow puncture. The lag effect between the Northern Ireland and UK economies which has been apparent for years may have narrowed during the boom period but on current evidence it seems to be widening.

Construction is one sector which has been particularly hard hit and many local builders are having to look across the water to find new business.

Latest UK-wide data confirms the industry is at least showing signs of picking up, and from a surprising source. The UK construction sector as a whole expanded in May, with the house-building sector leading the charge.

It wasn't a pretty picture everywhere, with civil engineering work declining, but overall there was a lot more to cheer about, particularly given the fact employment rose for the first time in 10 months.

But it's a different story here.

Our own Construction Employers Federation said output from the sector has fallen by 30% over the past three years and looks to be still falling.

It said that the £865m fall in construction output in 2010 would lead to a £2bn loss to the local economy.

Northern Ireland's Gross Value Added, the new GDP, stands at £17bn a year, so that's a big percentage.

Based on those numbers it's no wonder the local economy is still licking its wounds and until things start to look a bit brighter for our builders it's going to be a hard slog.

With the wider UK market picking up there may be opportunities for local firms to travel to find work but that's not possible in every case.

On the upside, the agri-food, pharmaceutical and ICT sectors are showing growing signs of strength.

That's a good mix of the old and new and we can only hope the multiplier effect that spread out from the construction sector during the good times seeps out from these thriving industries.

Hopefully it will be enough to patch over the slow puncture in the economy and re-inflate businesses in all sectors.

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