Belfast Telegraph

Province counts cost of recession

Northern Ireland has been "severely affected" by the global recession, according to a new document.

The latest economic commentary from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, said rising unemployment was the most obvious sign of the recession.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in Northern Ireland stands at 58,600, and has more than doubled over the last three years.

It is also the only region of the UK where unemployment is continuing to rise, although the rate of increase has declined over the past year.

In addition, the current claimant count is significantly below that experienced in the 1980s, when it peaked at 123,500.

The report said it is "apparent that the Northern Ireland labour market will remain in a fragile state for some time to come".

It also commented indirectly on a campaign for a cut in corporation tax to stimulate the economy. "Although a reduction in corporation tax has the potential to provide a major stimulus, it is important that fundamental elements of sustainable economic growth are also in place."

Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster said: "Although there is evidence from independent economic forecasters of a return to positive growth in the economy into 2011, there are mixed signals in respect of the labour market, with unemployment continuing to rise.

"I am working with my ministerial colleagues, in the Executive sub-committee on the economy, to support the private sector by putting in place the right economic strategy for future growth.

"We recognise that this will be in the context of a more constrained public expenditure environment."

She added: "As a small regional economy, it is only through export-led growth that we can realistically expect to significantly raise living standards."

The report said the sectors most affected by the reduction in jobs over the last three years were construction and manufacturing. But the document adds that reported redundancies had fallen by nearly 60% over the last year compared to the same time in 2009.

Output in the Northern Ireland services sector, as in the UK , has experienced three consecutive quarters of growth, but the total value of export sales for UK and Northern Ireland declined in the last two quarters of 2008 and the first two quarters of 2009.