Ballymena factory closure puts one per cent of north's economy up in smoke

The closure of the JTI factory in Ballymena wiped almost one per cent off the total Northern Ireland economy last year, data shows. Photo: Mal McCann
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE closure of the former Gallaher's cigarette factory in Ballymena has singularly wiped out nearly one per cent of the north's entire economy, new figures suggest.

Data from the Office for National Statistics reveals that the manufacturing of beverages and tobacco sector's output fell by nearly £350mn last year, largely due to the closure of JTI plant with the loss of more than 800 jobs.

And that stark statistic underlines the vital importance of large high-salaried manufacturing operations in the north, where the severe impact their closures or relocations could have on the overall economic state of the region.

The latest ONS data on regional economic output says the Northern Ireland economy is estimated to have grown by 1.7 per cent in real terms, equivalent to £664 million during 2016-2017.

Among the UK regions, Northern Ireland had the highest growth in gross value-added (GVA) per head of population last year at 3.1 per cent, compared to 2.9 per cent in England, 2.7 per cent in Wales and 2.8 per cent in Scotland.

In the various UK territorial areas, Belfast entered the top 10 for the first time at number five behind Camden/City of London, Westminster, Tower Hamlets and Kensington/Chelsea and Hammersmith/Fulham but ahead of the likes of Islington, Milton Keynes and Edinburgh.

However, five council areas in the north feature in the list of UK bottom 10 for GVA per head - Mid and East Antrim,Newry, Mourne and Down, Fermanagh and Omagh, Causeway Coast and Glens, and Ards and North Down

At the same time though, Causeway Coast and Glens (plus-8.9 per cent) was the area of Northern Ireland to see the highest real GVA growth in 2017 while the biggest fall was seen in Mid and East Antrim (minus-7 per cent), the latter again due in part at least to the JTI closure.

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