Belfast Telegraph

Quarry sector struggles in face of construction decline

By Clare Weir

Output from the production and service sectors in Northern Ireland is still weak, according to official statistics.

Provisional figures from the index of production for April to June this year show a decrease of 4.1% over the quarter - and an increase of 1.2% on the same period last year.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said industrial output fell by 22.4% between the fourth quarter of 2007 peak and the second quarter of 2009, higher than the 'peak to trough' decline of 15.4% between the second quarter of 2008 and the third quarter of 2009.

"Despite a recovery in recent quarters, Northern Ireland's industrial output in the second quarter of 2011 was almost 19% below the pre-downturn peak in the last three months of 2007. This represents a significantly sharper contraction than the UK (-10.6%)," he said.

He pointed out a 20% year-on-year decline in output from Northern Ireland's mining and quarrying industry. "It is now clear that the level of output within mining and quarrying is back to output levels last recorded in 2002 and has shown no sustained recovery."

The decline in that sector reflected decline of around one-third in construction. "Given that the Northern Ireland Executive has slashed its capital investment plans by 37% (in real terms) over the next few years, relative to its recent peak the mining and quarrying sector is likely to record further declines in output and employment in the quarters ahead."

Manufacturing industry saw output decline by 3.3% and follows six consecutive quarters of output growth.

The index of services for the second quarter of 2011, also published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), showed output levels rose by 0.6% from April to June but were down 4% on last year.

Unemployment figures also released yesterday show another 500 people signed on for the first time in September, bringing the total claimant count to 60,900. The unemployment rate for June to August was 7.6%, up from 7.1% on the quarter before.

Northern Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said global conditions were making job creation "virtually impossible".

She added: "Ultimately, success in our ability to create jobs will lie in our skills base, innovation and research."