Latest strong jobs figures 'doesn't mean all's well' says small business chief

The number of people in jobs in Northern Ireland has hit a record high, according to latest government figures
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE north's labour market continued to perform strongly in the May-July quarter as the jobless rate and the number of people deemed economically inactive both decreased.

And the rate of employment hit record high as workers' wages continue to surge higher, according to latest government figures.

The number of people in work in Northern Ireland rose by 1,380 over the quarter (and 14,020 in the year so far) to 778,890.

The region's rate of unemployment dropped a further 0.3 per cent to a record low of 2.8 per cent, which is below that for the UK as a whole (3.8 per cent) and the rate of both the Republic (4.6 per cent) and EU (6.3 per cent).

But a total of 331 redundancies were proposed in August, a significant increase on the previous monthly total of 90.

The latest market report also showed that there were 18,607 job vacancies in Northern Ireland in the May-July period.

However, according to small businesses boss Tina McKenzie, the latest strong employment figures "do not mean all is well".

The Federation of Small Businesses regional policy chair said: “While these positive stats should be welcomed, demonstrating the adaptability of Northern Ireland SMEs who continue to create jobs in a difficult climate, there are other warning signs that all is not well in the local economy.

“Data released over the past week has shown that business start-ups in Northern Ireland have decreased by 15 per cent in 2018. Meanwhile, other research has shown output is down across all sectors of the economy, with manufacturing and construction particularly hit.

“In this context, FSB has called on the chancellor to bring forward an emergency budget to help stimulate the economy, by using measures such as cutting VAT and employers national insurance contributions."

Ms McKenzie added: “The best way politicians can rebuild confidence among local businesses is to find agreement which avoids a no-deal Brexit and restore devolved government so decisions can be made and key projects advanced.”

The high level of employment has also been linked to the record-high percentage of women aged between 16 and 64 in work, which UK-wide remained at 72.1 per cent.

Average earnings, which include bonuses, had the fastest rate of growth since May 2008 as they increased by 4 per cent compared with 3.8 per cent in the previous month.

David Freeman, head of labour market statistics for the Office for National Statistics, said: "The employment rate has remained fairly constant at a joint record high for some months now, while the unemployment rate was last lower at the end of 1974.

"Vacancies continue to fall back from recent record highs, with much of this decline coming from small businesses.

"Including bonuses, wages are now growing at 4 per cent a year in cash terms for the first time since 2008.

"Once adjusted for inflation, they have now gone above 2 per cent for the first time in nearly four years."

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