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John Simpson

Perfect storm to puncture optimism in Northern Ireland for at least year

John Simpson


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Covid-19’s impact could lead to job losses

Covid-19’s impact could lead to job losses

Covid-19’s impact could lead to job losses

The local economy faces uncomfortable strains for most of 2020. Optimism is postponed until 2021.

Three particular features causing commercial concern as well as affecting incomes and spending are coming together.

Covid-19 is already an unpredictable and unwelcome influence on the health of individuals as well as our collective health and social services.

The pathway for Covid-19 has started but its full weight will not be evidenced possibly for another two to three months.

Covid-19 makes the post-Brexit debate seem small.

But the post-Brexit planning and negotiating is anything but trivial.

During 2020 businesses must anticipate, if they can, the pathway of the negotiations between the UK Government and the EU 27.

Into that matrix we must anticipate the particular influence of the Withdrawal Agreement, where potential crises lurk in the more precise interpretation of the agreement both from a legal and an administrative viewpoint.

Too many UK politicians either have not read the agreement carefully or, in a more malign interpretation, want to deny the merits and enforcement of what has been signed into part of the withdrawal papers.

A second part of the post-Brexit tension lies in the emerging negotiations about the future trading and commercial relationships with the EU 27.

A specific local concern lies in the possible problems of keeping a stable constructive relationship between the Irish authorities and either UK Government viewpoints or the viewpoints of the devolved administration at Stormont.

There is the potential, probably unintentional, for many aspects of the negotiations with the EU 27 to become stalled on points of detail.

A new Government in Dublin must be formed and take a constructive approach to north-south questions.

So also the NI Executive must avoid problems and recognise the importance of generating a common sense of purpose in keeping with the specific local inheritance of issues linked to the Common Travel Area and the subjects that might logically be linked to that agreement as a partial separate dimension to avoid some of the migration questions stemming from the revamped UK immigration rules.

All of these uncertainties pose serious concerns for the strength or weaknesses of the NI economy.

2020 heralds a mixture of health, social and economic events that are unwelcome but sadly, mostly unavoidable.

Ministers in the Executive are facing the evolution of events which are generally not within the control of local ministers.

Business activity may falter. Domestic demand as it affects high street shopping may reduce as households defer household expenditure decisions because of increased levels of concern about developments.

Export markets may be hit by emerging falls in demand as a consequence of Covid-19 disruption.

In total, employment may fall.

Unemployment, after several remarkable years when it has fallen to historically low levels, may increase.

A surprise benefit from recent and continuing events has been (and will be) stable or falling petrol prices, as world production creeps ahead of a slower growth of world demand.

There will be little surprise if house prices lose any upward momentum.

With increased uncertainty about jobs and earnings, households may be more inclined to defer decisions on moving house even if interest rates remain low.

For the farming communities and businesses in the food processing industry, 2020 brings an uncomfortable degree of uncertainty.

What will the UK Government put in place as the successor policies when the UK is outside the EU CAP? How seriously will the beef, poultry and pork markets as well as the dairy industry be affected by the end of transition from the EU which will take place at the start of 2021?

One final thought: now seems like a good time to have a holiday in a warmer place. Some air fares are more attractive.

Where would a healthy (non-virus) climate be assured?

2020 will be an uncomfortable year: if we survive, better times may emerge in 2021.

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