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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 14:22 GMT
Northern Ireland: Global economic woes
Nortel's factory, near Belfast
More than 1,000 jobs have gone from the Nortel plant

The Northern Ireland economy has come a long way in the last decade.

But like other regions of the United Kingdom, it has felt the chill of international economic conditions in the last two years.

The changing fortunes are reflected in the Province's unemployment figures.

Unemployment in Northern Ireland was traditionally the highest in the UK, peaking at 17% in the late 1980s.


The region's economic fortunes are determined less by the political and security situation than at any point for a generation

In contrast the claimant count last month stood at 4.5%.

There are now parts of the Province beginning to feel real pressure in recruiting labour, and some employers using migrant workers to fill low paid jobs.

Slowdown

However while the jobless total fell sharply throughout most of the nineties, that decrease has now slowed dramatically, with the number of people out of work similar to a year ago.

Workers building planes at Shorts
Trouble at Shorts has also led to vast job losses
What lies behind that slowdown are the tough times currently being face by some manufacturers.

The three big industries are clothing and textiles, food processing and engineering.

The first two of those in particular have felt the pressures of globalisation on low margin industries.

Engineering difficulties have been compounded by the technology downturn that has hit the IT and telecoms sectors which had previously been growing rapidly.

Specifically, the problems faced by the huge Canadian telecoms company Nortel have hit the region hard.

House prices

More than 1,000 jobs have gone at the firm's plant near Belfast, which was the flagship of the local technology sector, while at least 1,000 further jobs have been lost at Nortel's suppliers.

On top of that close to 2,000 jobs have been lost at the Province's biggest company, Shorts.

Its Canadian parent company Bombardier has been hit by the aerospace downturn following 11 September.

More positively the service sector remains strong, while the size of the public sector and its payroll have helped sustain the consumer economy.

While house prices have risen sharply and caught up with regions such as Scotland and the north of England, low interest rates have helped keep housing affordable.

Gap with rest of UK

Despite the progress of recent years Northern Ireland continues to have significant economic challenges.

Wages remain significantly below the UK average (88%), as does GDP per capita (80%).

The low level of new business start-ups worry local policymakers, as does the skills levels of certain sections of the workforce.

However possibly the most significant shift of the last decade is that the region's economic fortunes are determined less by the political and security situation than at any point for a generation.

One question being asked now is what impact any period of sustained instability could have on the years to come.


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See also:

07 Nov 02 | Business Day
01 Jun 02 | N Ireland
11 Oct 01 | N Ireland
06 Oct 00 | N Ireland
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