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Single market crucial to keep Northern Ireland jobs on track, says economist

By Margaret Canning

Published 18/08/2016

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey

Unemployment fell in Northern Ireland in the weeks following the vote to leave the EU, latest figures show.

But the future robustness of the job market here will depend on whether access to the single market for labour continues, economist Richard Ramsey said.

There were 36,100 people signing on in July - down by 600 on June, said the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra).

And the separate unemployment rate for April to June, contained in the labour force survey, also saw a slight decrease to 6%.

But the rate here is still higher than the UK-wide level of 4.9%.

And at 26.4%, the economic inactivity rate for Northern Ireland - monitoring those who are neither in work nor looking for work - was up 0.2% on the first quarter of the year, but down slightly on the same time a year before.

PwC NI chief economist Dr Esmond Birnie said the falling unemployment figures showed that jobs were still being created.

But he said July's claimant count was a "limited evidence base" for drawing any conclusions on the impact of the vote to leave the EU.

And Ulster Bank chief economist Mr Ramsey said a key influence on future job figures would be whether the UK could maintain access to the single market for labour.

"Indeed, last week the First and Deputy First Ministers wrote to the Prime Minister Theresa May stressing the importance of retaining access to labour," he said.

"Policies need to be sufficiently flexible to allow access to unskilled as well as highly skilled labour.

"Northern Ireland's recent record highs in employment and labour market recovery would not have occurred without access to labour from beyond these shores."

He said the number of workers here had grown by 83,000 since the depths of the recession - with 42% of those people born outside the UK.

Mr Ramsey said the claimant count in the province was at its lowest at 23,500 in 2007, and reached its peak of 64,700 in February 2013.

Belfast Telegraph

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