Belfast GVA improving but Northern Ireland's living standards still playing catch up

Belfast had the greatest increase in GVA per head last year

BELFAST was the top performing city in terms of growth in total gross value added (GVA) per head last year, according to official figures.

But the standard of living in Northern Ireland continues to decline relative to Britain.

GVA per head grew 4.7 per cent in 2015 while total GVA grew 5.4 per cent putting it ahead of Edinburgh, Cardiff and London.

However the statistics do not necessarily point to a major upturn in Northern Ireland's economic fortunes, a leading analyst has said.

Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at Ulster University, said the figures may have been distorted by the impact of commuting adding that the rest of the data was "less reassuring".

"In 2015 the level of GVA per head in Northern Ireland was only 73 per cent of the UK average- the second lowest of any major UK region. (Only Wales was lower, at 71 per cent and the north-east of England has now pulled ahead of Northern Ireland by moving up to 75 per cent)," he said.

And he described the long run trend in GVA statistics as "most concerning".

"Whereas in 1997, the first year for which ONS present this data, the level of GVA per head in Northern Ireland was 82 per cent of the UK average and that figure increased to a peak of 83.6 per cent in 2007, since 2007 there has been a continuous decline," said Dr Birnie.

"Northern Ireland has been falling behind throughout the last eight or so years.

"It is understandable the Assembly is being recalled on Monday to consider the RHI but here we see a fundamental strategic weakness of the Northern Ireland economy and it is one which should be given priority in the next programme for government. If not we may simply continue to slip further and further behind in terms of comparative productivity, competitiveness and living standards.”

The figures follow data earlier this week from the Northern Ireland Research and Statistics Agency (Nisra) which revealed growth in economic output and employment rate was in decline since the EU referendum.

According to official figures, output in the production sector fell 1.8 per cent in the three months to September representing its steepest decline since 2009.

The fall was "most pronounced" in manufacturing while services output declined for the first time since the start of last year, falling 0.5 per cent in real terms over the quarter.

Nisra said it was "not possible to specifically attribute any of the latest changes in the local labour market or economy to the impact of the EU referendum".

"However, there is evidence of a continued slowdown in jobs growth and the production sector is reporting a decline of 1.4 per cent over the year," it added.

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