Northern Ireland dole queues down, but more jobs expected to be lost in manufacturing
Dole queues in Northern Ireland have shortened by 800 and employment has increased this year - but there are stark warnings of trouble ahead for the manufacturing sector in 2016.
While new labour figures released show an improvement in employment and inactivity rates in 2015, leading economists gave a lukewarm response to the news about the region's performance.
Figures from the Labour Force Survey released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency come with a caution that the improvement will slow down in 2016, in line with the rest of the UK.
People seeking unemployment benefits last month reduced by 800, leaving 39,100 people still signing on. A total of 11,690 people found work over the year.
The total number of employee jobs was estimated at 729,749 for September, which represents an increase of 2,690 jobs over the quarter and a total of 8,470 over the year.
But Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey believes that further manufacturing job losses are on the cards for next year, based on the sharp decline in output this year.
He said that employment levels are lagging behind, and predicts further challenging times ahead for manufacturers as output declined to a pre-recession level last recorded in late 2009.
"There has been a strong year for the labour market this year, but 2016 will be challenging, with slower labour market growth and further job losses from manufacturing," he said.
Mr Ramsey added that since the economic downturn, the Northern Ireland economy lost 41,500 jobs but had only managed to recoup just over 38,000 of them.
"Since the middle of this year, there are 1% more private sector jobs now than there were just prior to the downturn in the last quarter of 2008, but the problem is that there are 5.5% less public sector jobs, and more to go."
However, Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell gave a positive spin in response to the report. He said: "The figures published contain positive messages across a range of key labour market indicators.
"Unemployment has fallen, both over the quarter and the year, while the number of employee jobs has continued to increase. My department is committed to growing the economy, assisted by Invest NI, which is now on track to exceed its revised Programme for Government target of promoting 41,000 jobs since 2011."
PwC chief economist, Dr Esmond Birnie, warned that encouraging though the figures might be, there were no grounds for any euphoria. "Yesterday's figures indicate that the speed of growth, especially with respect to jobs' growth, is slowing down - another worrying sign that the already modest regional recovery is losing momentum," he added.
Danske Bank chief economist Angela Magowan described the 0.2% annual increase in employment in the last quarter as "slow" and "disappointing" but expected employment to rise by 0.6% overall next year.
Meanwhile, Wilfred Mitchell, Federation of Small Business (FSB) policy chair for Northern Ireland, pointed out that the fall in unemployment remained subdued compared to the rest of the UK.