North's economy facing 'serious problems'


NORTHERN IRELAND’S economy is facing “very serious problems” if the euro zone crisis deepens, a report by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers has warned.

The Economic Outlook study makes for gloomy reading with findings that almost 11,000 private-sector jobs north of the Border have gone in the past two years.

Not only is the North’s economy lagging behind the rest of the UK, but the prognosis is even worse, with predictions for the regional economy to shrink even further, according to the report.

The greatest employment losses came in construction and retail, which both shed more than 5,000 jobs. The only sector to grow was manufacturing, where job numbers increased marginally, by more than 1,000.

Retired University of Ulster economist Mike Smyth said that while he could not dispute the findings of the PwC audit it was important to look to the future with a positive attitude.

“It’s no lie that we’re lagging behind but that’s why we need a differential rate of corporation tax,” he said.

“There needs to be the political will to turn this situation around. We’re a regional economy and a peripheral member of the EU. We don’t have our own exchange rate and we’ve almost no control over taxes, so of course if the UK economy is weak we are going to be even weaker.

“There’s no will to use the few levers we have – for example, bringing in water charges or increasing university fees.

“PayPal is putting 1,000 jobs into Dundalk – why do you think that is? We need to be able to compete with that sort of investment and without a more competitive rate of corporation tax we haven’t a hope in hell.”

PwC economist Esmond Birnie believed the only hope of recovery was if the euro zone crisis diminished.

“Over the past two years, Northern Ireland has continued to attract outside investment and reinvestment. A number of our larger manufacturing exporters have also been successful in export markets and we have even seen some modest growth in manufacturing employment,” he said.

“The problem is that too few local companies are internationally competitive and our historic reliance on steady public spending growth means that Westminster’s austerity programme is hampering the NI Executive’s ability to commission major infrastructure programmes.

“If the euro zone crisis is dealt with, we can expect recovery to begin next year, but if the crisis deepens we are facing very serious problems indeed.”

Stormont Minister of Finance Sammy Wilson pointed out that Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate was still below the UK average.

“That’s not to be complacent, but I think that we have sought to take what action we can take to try and keep the economy afloat in very, very difficult times,” he said.