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Numbers on economics still not quite adding up

A plethora of numbers, reports and assessments landed on the business desk yesterday, only one of which offered any shred of light.

The big number of the day was the employment/unemployment numbers (whichever of these you use to describe these particular numbers betrays your inner optimist/pessimist) which made difficult reading for even the most ardent spin artist.

A rise in the unemployment level by 0.6% wasn't a complete surprise and at 7.1% is still a touch lower than last year but this month the headline figure was a sideshow from the quarterly employment survey.

Worringly, it showed a sharp dip in the number of actual jobs in the first quarter of the year by over 7,500 from the same period last year, a figure which has been falling for 14 of the last quarters.

In addition, the claimant count, which is said by some to be a more accurate measure of the job market, fell by another 300 to 62,600 in May.

Weighed down with the jobs data it was then on to an economy forecast which again didn't offer many surprises but certainly dampened the mood further.

Ernst and Young slashed it's forecast for growth in the Northern Ireland economy to just 0.1% in its Economic Eye Summer Forecast. That was a reduction of 1% which might not sound like much but in these days of economic hardship every percentage point counts.

Deeper in the report the learned economists at Ernst and Young also make a novel comparison.

They point out that the cost of subsidising Northern Ireland's fiscal deficit is £9bn, roughly equivalent to the full cost of the London Olympics. If we were a national economy we would have the largest fiscal deficit by a huge margin of anywhere else in Europe.

Mulling over that nugget of information we were at least roused by another call to cut corporation tax by, of all things, the Department for Employment and Learning.

Its commissioned survey says a cut in corporation tax could create nearly 60,000 jobs by 2030, a figure which is enough to pique the interest of even those against such a tax cut.

But, in these straightened times, the UK government will be looking more and more closely at the cost to it of Northern Ireland and it will be a fine balancing act to persuade it that embarking on a process which technically increases that deficit initially is worth it.

Hopefully, longer-term economics will prevail over short-term politics because undoubtedly lower corporation tax is the key to reducing our fiscal deficit; it just takes patience.