Northern Ireland economy is on the way back up, says Finance Minister Simon Hamilton
Finance Minister insists recent signs 'have been encouragingly positive'
Northern Ireland is perfectly poised to take advantage of an economic recovery, according to the new Finance Minister.
Speaking to business leaders at the CBI's Chairman's Dinner, Simon Hamilton said the region is in the "foothills" of recovery and is heading in the right direction.
"Recent signs about the state of the local economy have been encouragingly positive," he said.
"Unemployment has fallen below the UK average again. Business activity across all sectors is up according to the Ulster Bank Purchasing Managers Index. And house prices are on the rise again.
"Significantly, all three of these key indicators have shown their best measure since 2007 – the year the economic downturn started."
But he warned against getting carried away in a sea of positivity given the still shaky foundations the economy here finds itself in.
"No one, least of all me, would suggest that it'll all be nothing but positive news from here on in," he said. "It will be slow. It will be stuttering. We will take two steps forward and one back.
"But I believe that we are now in the foothills of economic recovery in Northern Ireland and heading in the right direction."
However, the UK Cities And Regions Regional Chart Book from Capital Economics sounded a note of caution about Northern Ireland's economy yesterday, saying it was picking up at a slower rate than other parts of the UK.
But its new economic assessment said that even though its indictors were the weakest of all UK regions, it was still "noteworthy" that Northern Ireland was showing even slight progress.
Its report said: "The (Northern Ireland) economy may be picking up, but it is still a long way behind other parts of the UK."
It cited the labour force survey, which it said showed a 0.5% rise in employment in Northern Ireland between quarter one and quarter two, with 4,000 jobs coming onto the workforce – higher than the UK as a whole, which reported a 0.2% rise in employment.
The survey also showed that unemployment fell by 6,000 in the same period – the biggest decline of any part of the UK.
But the authors also sounded a note of caution on what can be concluded from the survey.
"It should be said that a fall in unemployment greater than the associated rise in employment, although possible, is a little hard to believe. Simply sharing in the overall strengthening of activity is noteworthy where Northern Ireland is concerned," they said.