Dole queues shorten but economy 'lacks competitiveness'
THE number of people in Northern Ireland's dole queues fell by 1,100 last month and by 11,200 over the past year, official figures have revealed.
It represents the greatest annual decrease - 21.6 per cent - since 2000.
The statistics were included in the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency's latest Labour Market Report.
It prompted PwC's chief economist for the north to ask "is Northern Ireland closing the employment gap with the rest of the UK?"
He pointed out however, that it was not all good news in the labour market.
“Northern Ireland has delivered reasonably high rates of growth of employment in recent years with, 2014-15 being something of a record year for Invest NI in terms of the number of Foreign Direct Investment projects. Nonetheless, something of an employment gap is emerging," he said.
Dr Birnie said while the UK's employment rate had jumped from 70 per cent to 73.6 per cent since 2010, the north's had remained largely unchanged at 68 per cent.
“This reflects a failure to increase the competitiveness of the Northern Ireland economy where productivity has actually declined and where there are no targets for improvement in the 2011-15 Programme for Government," he said.
“Boosting productivity is a key strategy in the government’s growth plans and without significant increases in productivity the employment gap will widen, with one-in-six local companies already having told the NI Chamber of Commerce that they can’t afford to pay the National Living Wage £7.20/hour threshold, when it is introduced in 2016.”
Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said the report was "rather mixed in terms of good news and bad".
"Although there was a welcome fall in unemployment during the summer period, it is worrying that the overall employment level in Northern Ireland has not picked up and inactivity levels have also increased," she said.