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Northern Ireland's recovery lagging behind rest of UK


The level of unemployment is a key challenge

The level of unemployment is a key challenge

Steve Parsons

The level of unemployment is a key challenge

Northern Ireland's economic recovery is struggling to keep up with that of the rest of the UK, employment figures from the Department of Enterprise have shown.

The Labour Force Survey has revealed that the unemployment rate here held steady at 7.5% in the three months to the end of January, while unemployment in the UK as a whole had fallen by 0.2% to 7.2%.

And while the number of people classified as economically inactive fell by 7,000, Northern Ireland still ranks in last place of all UK regions when it come to the number of people not actively looking for work but of working age.

Angela McGowan, economist at Danske Bank, also pointed out that long-term unemployment rates of in Northern Ireland of 49% are well above the UK average of 35.6%, while full-time earnings here rose by only 0.5% in the year to April 2013 compared to a 2.2% increase in full-time earnings across the UK during the same period.

She said the increased gulf needs to be addressed by Westminster.

"Clearly there are still significant variations in the rate of recovery across the UK and the coalition government needs be challenged around how the Northern Ireland economy will successfully restructure itself in the longer term without some specific regional growth initiatives," Ms McGowan said.

Such a focus on Northern Ireland hasn't been apparent in the last few months, she said.

"The level of support recently has not been impressive, with the UK government's recent decision to choose Swansea rather than Coleraine to centralise DVA services. This decision perhaps reflects their level of concern and/or Northern Ireland's lack of influence on the 2015 UK election."

However, PwC economist Esmond Birnie said the jobs data offer a fillip for the Northern Ireland economy, particularly an growth in employment in the manufacturing and services sectors.

"Collectively the employment and output data strongly supports our belief that recovery is under way and that further growth can be expected during 2014, although the speed of recovery in Northern Ireland lags the other UK regions," he said.


Unemployment in Northern Ireland – 7.5%

Unemployment in UK – 7.2%

NI claimant count – 57,800, down 700

Number of NI employee jobs in December – 706,900, up 2,910

NI economic inactivity – 26.8%, down 7,000

Confirmed redundancies in NI in February – 68, down from 128 in February 2013