Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland economy 'stuck in crawler lane' as latest report shows slump in activity

Richard Ramsey
Richard Ramsey
Margaret Canning

Margaret Canning

The effects of the economic downturn are still being felt in Northern Ireland with one economist saying the economy is stuck “in the crawler lane”.

Figures show that economic activity slumped 0.1% in the quarter to September with performance still well below NI's 2007 peak.

The NI Statistics and Research Agency, which produces the Northern Ireland Composite Economic Index (NICEI), said the fall was driven by a drop in the production sector of 0.4 percentage points.

However, the construction sector’s activity was up by 0.2 percentage points, while the public sector was up by 0.1 percentage points. But private sector activity, the main engine room of the economy, was down 0.3%. And despite the quarterly fall, year-on-year economic activity was up 0.3%.

However, Nisra said that data from the last few years suggest the rate of growth here has picked up. Annualised average growth was up 1%, higher than the previous 0.5%.

The NICEI is regarded as a similar measure to GDP, which is used to measure output in the UK. And Northern Ireland’s 0.1% slump compares with an increase of 0.4% in UK GDP in the quarter. And over the year, GDP was up 1.1% in the UK.

Nisra said the economy here is still 3.6% below its 2007 peak, before the credit crunch and economic crash.

However, the UK economy is now 13.2% over its previous 2008 peak — signalling that Northern Ireland has had only weak recovery.

Nisra said: “The latest NICEI results continue to show that the UK has had a shorter downturn and a faster recovery than NI.”

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said: “The economy is in the crawler lane with the public sector edging forwards.

“But the private sector is in the crawler lane going backwards.”

Meanwhile, construction firms reported an increase of 4% in their output in the third quarter of 2019 compared to a year earlier.

However, output was down 2.7% on the same time in 2018. But Nisra’s construction bulletin said that overall the volume of construction output has been on the increase since the end of 2013. Nisra said the growth was driven by a 10% rise in repair and maintenance work, offset by a 0.8% decrease in new work. And the third quarter also saw a boost of 19.3% in infrastructure work, and a fall of 1.8% in housing.

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