Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Region 'slipping behind rest of UK'

Long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland is almost double the national average

Northern Ireland is slipping behind the rest of the UK in just about every measure of employment, growth and productivity, a new study has revealed.

Business confidence is lower than anywhere else in the 12 UK regions, with the second highest level of unemployment and long-term unemployment almost double the national average.

The Northern Ireland Economic Outlook (NIEO) published by PwC also claimed that forecast growth in the region during 2013 is now the lowest at 0.4%, with unemployment expected to rise during the year.

The report revealed underlying concerns about negative equity in the private property sector, rent arrears in the public sector and the impact of welfare reform, all of which is adding to pressures on the regional economy.

Belfast's visitor, hotel and tourism sector performed well last year and there was modest growth in food processing and some remarkable export wins from a small number of Northern Ireland's top-performing manufacturers.

But Dr Esmond Birnie, PwC chief economist in Northern Ireland said the region was beginning to pay the price for a generation of public sector dependency:

He said: "The public sector is suffering from the impact of the UK-wide austerity programme and is probably struggling to deliver the objectives it set in the Programme for Government

"Despite some remarkable export performances by a small number of our bigger manufacturing companies, the private sector lacks the critical mass to make up the shortfall on public expenditure."

Dr Birnie said the property crash, five years of zero or below-inflation pay rises, welfare reform and a lack of productivity added to the pressures on the public and private sectors and on households.

He added: "Northern Ireland is gradually slipping behind the rest of the UK in just about every measure of employment, growth and productivity and there is no obvious solution that will arrest this slide."

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