The State of Britain

Following lockdown the Province’s economy shrinks by 3.9%, the fastest fall in the UK, pre-pandemic data also shows an earlier Brexit contraction

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A quarterly nowcast for NI for the 3 months ended March 2020 which captures the start of lockdown, published by the Economic Statistic Centre of Excellence (‘ESCoE’), has estimated that the NI economy contracted by 3.9%. ESCoE is a partnership of research institutions and the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’).

This ranked NI last and suggests the province’s economy has so far coped poorly with the pandemic relative to the other eleven ‘regions’ of the UK but the rapidity of the shut down means the data is more uncertain than usual. Over the same period the East Midlands was ‘best’ with a fall of 1% with Scotland’s 2.7% contraction the second ‘worst’; the UK decline was 2%.

For the 12 months ended March 2020 on a rolling 4 quarter basis, ESCoE has estimated that NI growth has dropped from 1.1% to 0%.

This ranked NI eighth (previous ranking also eighth) and suggests the province has largely held its position relative to the other eleven parts of the UK on this measure. Over the same period UK growth was 0.5%; growth in London (ranked first) was 1.8%; and growth in the East Midlands (ranked twelfth) was -0.6%.

ONS GDP to September 2019

Official ONS figures for an earlier period which reflects Brexit uncertainty rather than Covid 19 turmoil, show the province dropping a couple of places relative to other parts of the UK. Following its first publication of quarterly GDP estimates for the regions in September 2019, the ONS has now published its fourth estimate for the nine English regions, and Wales.  GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013.

These stats are for the period six months before ESCoE’s estimates shown above and compare GDP in the quarter ended September 2019 with the same quarter a year earlier. These showed NI grew by 0.3%, the same as the previous quarter. This placed NI ninth (previous ranking seventh) out of the twelve UK ‘regions’.

London topped the table with growth of 5% whilst UK growth over the same period was 1.2%. The West Midlands was the worst performer and contracted by 1.5%. The East of England and the North West were the other two ‘regions’ in the UK to suffer a decline.

In the same report, the ONS’s figures also highlighted that the standalone quarter to September 2019 showed a deteriorating picture in NI with the data worse than the previous quarter. NI’s economy fell by 0.2% in July to September 2019, following growth of 0.4% in April to June 2019.

This placed NI ninth (previous ranking fourth) out of the twelve UK ‘regions.’ NI was one of four regions of the UK that saw their economies contract but overall the UK grew by 0.5%.

Again London was top with quarterly growth of 1.4% whilst, like NI, the North West contracted by 0.2% with the East Midlands posting a drop of 0.3%.

In this period, NI’s best sector was business/finance with growth of 0.6%. Overall the public sector grew by 0.1%, services by 0.1% and construction by 0.2% but production fell by 0.4%.


More largely pre-pandemic data from the ONS showed unemployment in the province was unchanged at 21,000 between January and March; the rate remained the lowest in the UK at 2.4%.  At 5.4% the North East was the highest; the SE had the second lowest rate of 2.9%, with the UK rate at 3.9%.

The South East had the highest employment rate at 80.2% which compared with 72.4% in NI where 0.9m are employed; the UK rate was 76.6%.


The province’s average property price increased by 0.2% over the month to £140,580. The uplift took the annual increase to 3.8%. In comparison, UK prices dropped by 0.2% to £231,855 during March, an annual growth rate of 2.1%.

The ONS data is based on completed housing transactions. Typically, a house purchase can take 6 to 8 weeks to reach completion so the price data in the March figures will therefore reflect those completions that occurred before lockdown.

Given the closure of the housing market following lockdown the ONS has suspended its index until further notice.