Sector should receive credit for leading way
Has the services sector come to the rescue of the Northern Ireland economy?
According to Nisra's census of employment, which was carried out in September 2013 and covers all sectors except agriculture – and excludes self-employment –there were 11,236 new jobs in the services sector over a two year period.
The sector covers a dizzying array of jobs and employers –from hairdressers to restaurants and accountants.
For that reason, the quality of jobs and the amount they pay vary hugely in the services sector. So arguably, the significant increase in services jobs shouldn't be cause for celebration.
Economists Angela McGowan and Alan Bridle are agreed that the huge jump in jobs in the sector is a good thing – and if you've spent a long, demoralising period in the dole queue, you won't get too hung up on the niceties of the sector you're employed in, so long as it pays the bills. But as they point out, sustainable economic growth depends on being able to produce something someone wants to buy – so if you aren't selling your services beyond your own town, your long-term contribution may be limited.
Both economists point out that the key is for Northern Ireland to sell tradeable services beyond its borders, and for us to become so adept in certain areas that we can export our talents, or even just sell them in other parts of the UK.
Mr Bridle cites the example of First Derivatives, a Northern Ireland company which sells its financial technology and consultancy services around the globe.
But the dissenting view is to applaud the services sector, and the fact that it can now claim four out of five jobs in Northern Ireland, and is probably solely responsible for the admittedly slight economic recovery we've experienced to this time.
Writing in The Times on Wednesday, Ed Conway described the UK's recovery as the "David Brent recovery". Jobsworth bosses in prosaic companies like the fictional Wernham Hogg in TV mockumentary The Office are the ones who have kept the UK economy going. David Brent could now claim to be "a friend first, boss second. Probably an entertainer third – and now an economic saviour fourth".