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Editor's Viewpoint

Castle job cuts hint at the pain to come

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Hillsborough Castle and gardens

Hillsborough Castle and gardens

Hillsborough Castle and gardens

The number of jobs at risk as Hillsborough Castle moves to trim its workforce in the coming months may be only 33, but it is symptomatic of how the pandemic has reached into every sector of the economy, even the home of Northern Ireland Secretaries of State and the residence of the Royal Family when they visit the province.

The 18th century castle had been looking forward to bumper visitor numbers this year. Instead, it is consulting on losing the equivalent of a third of its staff. For every one of those people, Hillsborough will be a bleak house come Christmas.

At the same time, Translink is to shed at least 50 jobs to save £20million. Again the figure looks small, but it is this incessant drip of job losses that has contributed to redundancies more than doubling in a year.

Earlier this year an economist forecast that the joblessness total could be as high as 100,000 by Christmas, a figure which seemed a doomsday prediction given that moves were afoot to kickstart the economy.

At the moment the figure stands at more than 62,000, lower than the anticipated level for this time of year, but it would be a brave person who would deny that more bad news is likely in the coming months.

The tightening of restrictions announced recently does not instil confidence in either a wholesale return to work or the ability of sectors such as tourism and hospitality - big earners for the province - to recover in a meaningful way in the immediate future.

Aviation is one sector which has literally been grounded by the pandemic. George Best Belfast City Airport has seen passenger numbers drop by 91% inside a year and Belfast International Airport has reported an 84% decline.

Such a fall is unsustainable, and with airlines cutting back on flights because of quarantine and cancelled holidays, it is a sector that has been crippled.

The added complication of Brexit is also making businesses cautious and uncertain about how to proceed.

Who would have thought that in the midst of all the economic chaos the only cheers would come from Northern Ireland's football grounds? The sport is to get £6million - £1million for PPE at grounds and £5million for development.

This is very welcome news for a sector which depends largely on getting spectators through the turnstiles to survive.

However, government aid cannot disguise systemic failings in the economy. The Executive should be examining ways of creating more agile businesses, a more highly skilled workforce and an infrastructure able to withstand future shocks.

Belfast Telegraph