Belfast Telegraph

Unemployment rises by 200, but services driving growth

By Margaret Canning

The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in Northern Ireland rose by 200 in February, according to latest figures.

There were 38,300 people signing on in February, which was up 0.5% from January.

The latest labour market statistics also showed the unemployment rate from November to January was 6% - higher than the UK unemployment rate of 5.1%.

But at 26.4%, the economic inactivity rate - the measure of those who are neither in work nor looking for work - was its lowest since 1992.

Northern Ireland has historically had a much higher economic inactivity rate than other UK regions - and despite a decrease of 1.4% year on year, it was still significantly higher than the UK rate of 21.8%. But the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) said the current rate did represent a "statistically significant" fall from 28.8% in 2010.

And the employment survey showed that in the three months to December last year, there were 3,310 new jobs in Northern Ireland, giving a total number of jobs of 730,410.

Jobs growth was being driven by the services sector - which embraces everything from restaurants to estate agents, according to the figures. And in the UK, employment growth was also strong.

There were 31.42 million people in jobs, which was up 478,000 on a year ago.

But Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said that employment growth was likely to slow in the UK, due to sluggish economic expansion and the uncertainties presented by a potential Brexit vote.

"The same holds for Northern Ireland, where investment levels are also expected to lose momentum in the run-up to June 23 and undoubtedly new employment opportunities will be impacted."

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said: "Despite a slight increase in the numbers claiming unemployment related benefits, there are many encouraging messages in the figures.

"I welcome, in particular, the record employment numbers and the historic low in economic inactivity rates.

He added: "In addition, the number of employee jobs is continues to increase." The employment rate was the highest it had been since 2007, with 69% of people aged 16 to 64 now in work.

However, that remained lower than the UK employment rate of 74.1%.

Max Mackin, the owner of Reactive Recruitment in Northern Ireland, said: "We are seeing the local private sector gain momentum and there is a greater appetite for growth as conditions improve.

"There are currently more than 3,500 vacancies on local job boards and this represents an increase of more than 10% on last year.

"The most sought after skills in Northern Ireland are in administration, engineering, manufacturing, IT and sales."

Belfast Telegraph