Belfast Telegraph

Reasons to be cheerful as Northern Ireland's economy gets back on its feet

BY MARGARET CANNING

The Northern Ireland economy is rallying and there are reasons to be optimistic about the year ahead, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has said.

On a visit to employers in Co Down, organised by Kilkeel, Warrenpoint and Newcastle Chambers of Commerce, the minister said: "2013 was notable for how many key economic indicators were showing their best results since the crisis began – unemployment fell, employment rose, business activity across all sectors increased – and consumer confidence began to improve.

"This growing confidence was reflected in the rise in house sales and the 10% increase in new car registrations. During the darkest days of the downturn, when each of these indicators were moving in the wrong direction, they were rightly reported as signs of how tough times were.

"Now that they are moving in the right direction, it is only correct we acknowledge that, slowly but surely, the economy is rallying and is on the road to recovery."

The Northern Ireland economy is expected to expand by 1.5% this year, compared to an approximate growth of 1% last year. Before the downturn, typical growth was around 2.5% to 3% per year.

Mr Hamilton said growth must not be taken for granted.

"Just because things like unemployment, business activity and consumer confidence are improving, it doesn't mean that we can stop investing in the skills and infrastructure we need for the dynamic and innovative economy we desire," he said.

"It doesn't mean that companies can ease off in their efforts to export their goods and services and open up new markets. We must balance our investments as an Executive, between assisting those businesses that are still struggling, whilst continuing to help companies who can, to avail of the opportunities that growing economies around the world present."

He said this week's warning by Chancellor George Osborne that the UK could face another £25bn in public spending cuts was a reminder of challenges ahead.

But he said he hoped the year would also bring more economic autonomy.

Mr Hamilton said: "A positive decision by the Prime Minister to devolve corporation tax powers to the Assembly will give us the chance to build upon the success we've already achieved as the second most attractive destination in the UK for foreign direct investment and home to an increasing number of blue chip companies, and begin to truly transform our economy."

He added: "On balance, I believe 2014 will be a year of increasing opportunity for the Northern Ireland economy and one, I hope, which is reflected upon in 12 months time as the beginning of better times."

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