Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Northern Ireland firms hire at fastest rate for six years

New look: The old Crepe Weavers factory is to be redeveloped into a host of uses that it is hoped will eventually match the 400 jobs which the factory used to sustain at its site in Newtownards
New look: The old Crepe Weavers factory is to be redeveloped into a host of uses that it is hoped will eventually match the 400 jobs which the factory used to sustain at its site in Newtownards

Employment in Northern Ireland firms grew at its fastest rate in over six years during October, a bellwether survey said.

In the most recent of glad tidings on the Northern Ireland economy, the Ulster Bank purchasing managers' index today said higher levels of new business had prompted the employment boost.

Indeed, firms could be persuaded to hire even more staff, as the survey also showed that backlogs of work had grown at their fastest rate since August 2007.

And, in even better news for the sector most crippled by the downturn, construction posted its fastest rate of output and employment since 2009.

But the services sector was the one sector where backlogs were growing fastest.

October's increases in input and new orders appeared to prove that a rally for the private sector in the third quarter of the year was far from a false dawn.

However, October's growth was slower than that in the preceding three months.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey (below) said: "Northern Ireland's private sector firms have started the fourth quarter the way they finished the third quarter with business activity, new orders and employment all on the rise.

"While the pace of business activity eased relative to the September survey, local firms still posted a robust rate of growth last month.

"Meanwhile, the rate of growth in new orders held steady, which should provide momentum going into 2014."

And the province was also benefiting from a revving up of output, new orders and employment in the UK and Republic "as our firms are exposed to the economic fortunes of these two economies more so than any other".

Mr Ramsey described the recovery in Northern Ireland as "broad-based" with construction, manufacturing, retail and services all reporting growth.

Construction had its most pronounced growth spurt since its measurement in the PMI began in 2009 – though Mr Ramsey cautioned that the increases were from "extremely low levels".

John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF), said: "This report corresponds with our own view that since midway through 2013 the local construction industry has been stabilising, with some sectors beginning to see modest growth.

"We believe that the rise in output reported in October was most likely driven by increased workloads in Great Britain and the gradual resurgence of the local private housing building sector."

But he said there had been no rise in new construction orders in October.

"There is still a sense that the recovery is not fully fledged," he added. "The biggest concern for the industry in Northern Ireland continues to be the delays in getting a raft of public sector projects started on site."

Mr Ramsey added that the return of pricing power was another knock-on effect of improving business conditions.

"Last month saw local firms raise the price of their goods and services at their fastest rate in over five years," he said.

"For many firms this will help restore profit margins after years when passing on price rises to customers was simply not an option."

While Northern Ireland's economy was doing better, its growth was slower than the UK economy's average. And the rate of job creation here was slower than across the UK.