Growing private sector drives north's employment rate to record high

The Northern Ireland unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent remains below the UK average (3.9 per cent)
The Northern Ireland unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent remains below the UK average (3.9 per cent) The Northern Ireland unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent remains below the UK average (3.9 per cent)

THE number of people in work in the north has once again jumped to a record high, according to the latest official figures.

Growth within the Northern Ireland private sector has seen the employment rate rise to 70.9 per cent - a 1.4 per cent hike over the quarter and the year.

The record employment in the north mirrors the overall UK picture, where the proportion of people picking up a pay packet now stands at a lofty 76.1 per cent.

The Labour Force Survey, which covers November to January, further shows that Northern Ireland unemployment remains unchanged over the quarter at 3.5 per cent. The figure is slightly up (0.3 per cent) on the same period a year ago, but remains below the UK rate (3.9 per cent), which is the lowest recorded in over 40 years and similar statistics published in the Republic of Ireland (5.3 per cent) and EU (6.6 per cent).

The stubbornly high Northern Ireland economic inactivity rate, which covers people who are not in employment or unemployed, fell over the quarter and the year by 1.4 per cent and 1.6 per cent respectively to 26.4 per cent. That being said the level remains the highest of all regions and well above the UK average, which now stands at 20.7 per cent.

The number of confirmed redundancies (2,354) in the most recent 12 months is 30 per cent higher than in the previous year (1,815), but just

14 redundancies were recorded in February, the lowest monthly total in over 12 years (August 2006).

However, 122 redundancies were proposed between mid-February and mid-March , an almost three-fold increase on the previous monthly total of 42.

In line with employment growth, the total number of jobs in the north increased to an all-time high of 773,750. This was driven largely by the private sector, which reported a record 565,480 jobs. There was further good news in the public sector as job numbers rose both over the quarter and the year to 207,950.

Increases were experienced in all broad industry sectors over the year, with the services sector, which accounts for more than four-fifths of jobs in the north, accounting for the majority of the annual growth.

Over the quarter, the beleaguered retail sector reported an increase of around 5,000 jobs - a welcome 5.5 per cent hike.

FSB Northern Ireland head of external affairs, Roger Pollen believes the latest figures show businesses in the north continue to perform admirably, despite Brexit uncertainty and the prolonged absence of a devolved government.

“The two sets of economic data released today certainly paint a positive picture of the Northern Ireland economy with the employment rate at its highest on record, while the private sector jobs count is also at an all-time high, with increases over the quarter and the year across all four industry sectors measured," he said.

“However, it would certainly be foolish to suggest that the ‘garden is rosy’ for small businesses. Their situation could be improved by agreement being reached to avoid a no-deal Brexit on March 29, while the return of a devolved Executive could create the conditions for action to be taken in crucial areas, such as enhanced rates relief, skills and infrastructure investment.”

Danske Bank chief economist, Conor Lambe said the data reinforces the message that the local labour market is in "relatively good shape, but added a note of caution.

“We must recognise the fact that the future performance of the local labour market will be heavily dependent on how the Brexit process evolves in the coming days.

"A no-deal Brexit occurring on  March 29 is very unlikely, though still technically possible. Avoiding a no-deal Brexit is a necessity for the local economy and for the individual businesses across Northern Ireland that are continuing to create jobs.”