Northern Ireland services sector hit new heights in early 2023, official data shows

The north's business services and finance sector helped drive the growth in the services sector in early 2023.
The north's business services and finance sector helped drive the growth in the services sector in early 2023.

THE north’s all-important services sector hit new heights in the first three month of the year, new official data shows.

Output in the sector, which accounts for the greater part of the Northern Ireland economy, increased by 2.2 per cent across January to March.

It resulted in another record high for the Index of Services, compiled by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra).

It suggests output in services sector here is now 7.4 per cent above pre-pandemic levels, and is significantly outperforming the UK sector as a whole.

The biggest growth in early 2023 came within the business services and finance sub sector.

Accounting for around one-third of all services output, it grew by 3 per cent in the first quarter (Q1), leaving it 8.7 per cent up on 12 months earlier.

The north’s retail and hospitality sub sector also grew by 1.7 per cent in Q1, with ‘other services’ up 1.1 per cent.

Spanning everything from personal services to private healthcare, output for the ‘other services’ category was by 5.7 per cent up on Q1 2022.

The growth in the three sub-sectors offset a 2.9 per cent contraction in ‘transport, storage, information and communications’, which includes freight, courier firms, as well as data and IT activities.

A separate report published on Thursday showed Northern Ireland’s retail sector jumped by 3.3 per cent in early 2023.

But output in the sector remained 1.1 per cent down on first three months of 2022, with retail still 3.5 per cent below pre-Covid levels.

Nisra’s Retail Sales Index suggests the sector in the north is performing much better than the UK as a whole.

Meanwhile, new data from Nisra on Thursday showed another encouraging quarter for the north’s Manufacturers.

Manufacturing output increased by 0.4 per cent in Q1 2023.

Nisra said it was driven by increases in three of the six main subsectors: Engineering and allied industries (0.3 per cent); ‘other manufacturing’ (4.5 per cent); and chemical and pharmaceutical products (6.5 per cent).

Despite quarterly declines in output in textiles and food & drink, those subsectors remained among the best performing since 2019.

While manufacturing output grew in early 2019, the overall Index of Production decreased by 0.4 per cent, leaving it 1.9 per cent down over the year.

The contraction was mainly down to contractions in other sectors measured by the report, particularly energy, water and recycling.

Despite the decrease, the index was still 3.7 per cent up on pre-pandemic levels.