Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's services sector output at its highest for 10 years: report

By Margaret Canning

Activity in Northern Ireland Ireland's services sector, covering everything from restaurants to estate agents, has reached its highest point in nearly 10 years, according to a report.

The index of services from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) showed output from the sector in the third quarter in 2017 was the highest since the same period in 2008.

Services also accounted for the majority of growth in private sector job numbers year-on-year, according to the separate quarterly employment survey.

There were 11,200 new private sector jobs in the economy, and at 7,952, 71% of the total were in the services sector.

The sector's yearly growth of 2.5% here in Northern Ireland also outstripped the UK's growth of 1.5%.

But despite the strong growth, Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey said output in services in Northern Ireland was still 4% lower than it had been in 2007.

"This highlights the quality of jobs in the sector, which tend to be of a part-time nature with low wages and low productivity," he said.

He added that the index also reflected findings of the Ulster Bank's monthly purchasing managers' survey, which had indicated a resurgence in retail business - a sub-sector of the services classification.

Mr Ramsey said: "Wholesalers and retailers saw sales jump 1.1% quarter-on-quarter, which was almost four times the expansion recorded in the UK.

"Clearly cross-border trade and the tourism boom are having an impact on the sector.

"Again this is in line with what the Ulster Bank PMI has indicated on recent months."

But the separate index of production showed output fell sharply over the year by 6.5%.

And it was in contrast to an improved UK performance in the production sector, with output up 1.8% over the year.

In Northern Ireland, the food, beverages and tobacco sub-sector accounted for much of the yearly slump, falling at 18%.

The closure of the JTI Gallaher factory in Ballymena accounted for much of the fall in the sub-sector.

However, the production sector data revealed growth of 2.8% over the year in the water supply, sewerage, and waste management sub-sector.

And there was even stronger growth in the electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply sub-sector at 6.2% over the year.

The index showed that manufacturing output was down 10% since the start of the year, and 12% lower than a decade ago.

Mr Ramsey said this contrasted with UK performance, where manufacturing output was just 2% below its levels of a decade ago.

But the quarterly employment survey had shown growth in job numbers in manufacturing, with 1,000 more jobs quarter-on-quarter in the third quarter.

The economist said: "Despite the closure of JTI in Ballymena, manufacturing employment is back to where it was a decade ago, although output and productivity remain well below 2007 levels."

Construction job numbers have also grown by around 6.7% year-on-year - though it sill remained 26% below pre-crash levels in 2007.

But the ICT sector had shown the largest percentage growth in jobs, with numbers growing by 8%, or 1,540.

And accommodation and food posted the largest employment gains, with jobs up 2,470.

Belfast Telegraph