Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

The tide is about to turn for Northern Ireland plc

Jobs. We all need them in one way or another, so it's little wonder they've been grabbing the headlines over the last couple of days. As with anything in this topsy turvy economic world we currently inhabit, the positive was tinged with the negative, the optimistic with the pessimistic.

On the one hand we have announcements over the last two days promising nearly 140 jobs from two high-tech firms, a sector which has been one of the few shining lights in the local economy - alongside the agri-food sector.

The latest, from Kana Software, follows its acquisition of Lagan Technologies in November and is further proof the venture capital model, which the local company had previously been part funded by, works. It helps propagate burgeoning local firms and, in doing so, attracts fresh foreign direct investment with all the accompanying bells and whistles.

On the other hand, we have data showing Northern Ireland's unemployment rate at 8%, a level not seen since 1998 and the first time it's climbed above the UK average - at 7.9% - in five years.

Obviously the latter point is bad news, but don't despair. In relative terms we're not as bad off as our nearest neighbour across the border which is currently struggling with nearly 14% unemployment, and we're certainly nowhere near Spain's 20%.

In addition it's worth remembering that the labour market is a notorious lagging indicator of economic health. When times are tough companies tend to weather the storm when it comes to staff and only really start to make difficult decisions in that area when up against the wall. On top of that, Northern Ireland's economy notoriously lags behind that of the UK so it's no wonder the labour market statistics don't show us in a good light.

That's not an excuse but does help to put into perspective some fairly gloomy statistics which have balanced out the good news in the high-tech sector. It's definitely going to be tough in the coming months as public sector cuts are implemented, but countering that is the type of jobs announcements we're reporting today.

The unemployment stats may make difficult reading for now but if we can keep reporting more job creation stories then it will only be a matter of time before the tide turns.

It'll be another couple of months before we see the labour market figures for the first quarter of this year, so Northern Ireland PLC has plenty of time to notch up more job wins.

It may sound like a tall order but you have to aim high.

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