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Jobless total still rising but rate begins to slow

The number of people joining the dole queues in Northern Ireland rose again in December, official figures showed yesterday.

The Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment said the claimant count for the month was 54,500, up 500 from November and 17,800 over the year.

For the second consecutive month Northern Ireland was one of only two UK regions that recorded a monthly increase in claimants, although the rate was well below the average monthly increases of 1,500 in 2009.

However, the seasonally adjusted labour force survey for September to November showed the overall unemployment rate fell to 6.8% from 7.1% in the June to August quarter — a decrease of 1,000 to 56,000.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “It is encouraging to see that the increase in the unemployment rate has slowed in recent months and that the Northern Ireland rate has remained below the UK average (7.8%).

However, more recent figures for December 2009 show a rise of 500 in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits.

“While this increase is disappointing, the growth in claimants last month is below the average monthly increase of over 2,000 recorded during the first six months of the year.”

Northern Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said the figures demonstrated that Northern Ireland’s labour market ‘is not out of the woods just yet’’.

She added: “Flexible working practices such as pay freezes and reduced hours combined with a relatively large proportion of public sector workers in the local labour market has resulted in local unemployment levels not reaching the eye-watering levels experienced in most of Europe and the US.”

Recruitment specialist Neal Lucas said it was ‘disappointing’ to see a rise in claimaint numbers but that it was rising more slowly than before.

He added: “The construction industry will continue to be hardest hit in terms of recruitment throughout 2010 with growth in manufacturing also slow, although I am aware of job announcements in this sector in the near future.”

Meanwhile, the latest Northern Ireland Construction Bulletin from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency revealed a further fall in output to £698m, a fall of 1.1% on the previous quarter (£706m) and a drop of 2.4% (£17m) on the same quarter in 2008.

The decrease in the overall volume of construction output was accounted for by a decline in repair and maintenance work over the quarter.

Belfast Telegraph