The State of Britain

The Northern Ireland economy ranked second in the UK, the unemployment rate the lowest in the UK, and house prices in the Province jump

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Northern Ireland public transport provider Translink, which oversees NI Railways, Ulsterbus and Metro, has appointed a contractor for the first phase of the new Belfast Transport Hub, which is likely to cost in the region of £200m.

The Weavers Cross project is an eight hectare development on the site of the existing Europa bus centre and Great Victoria Street train station. The Hub will be the main transport gateway to Belfast, with rail, bus and coach connections to all parts of Northern Ireland.

The project could create up to 400 jobs over the next five years with 100 jobs in the initial phase.

Also on employment, lorry trailer manufacturer SDC Trailers, is cutting an undetermined number of jobs across its plants in Toomebridge and Mansfield. The company was sold to Chinese group CIMC Vehicles in 2016 and employs 800 people – 650 in plants in Northern Ireland, with a further 150 in Nottinghamshire.

The new Hinch Distillery, which will produce whiskey and gin from a facility near Ballynahinch, will create 40 jobs. The project will include a visitor centre, restaurant, pub and event spaces and is being supported with a £1.9m taxpayer grant from Invest Northern Ireland.

In 2010 there were four distilleries in Ireland, now there are 24.

Northern Ireland Screen has also committed £218,000 of public money in production funding towards a simulation game, Paleo Pines, where players become dinosaur ranchers. The game is being developed by County Down game development studio, Italic Pig, and is likely to cost over £1m.

The Agency plans to spend about £300,000 per year on video game production funding until 2022, and a further £2.8m over the same period in development funding for Northern Ireland’s video game industry.  Having backed Game of Thrones, who would dare question the wisdom of the quango’s approach.

Spirit, the buyer of Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operations, has suggested it may try to renegotiate a £113m taxpayer loan advanced for the development of the wing factory for the CSeries passenger plane, later renamed the Airbus A220. A loan repayment is made every time an A220 is delivered to a customer.

The Stats

Following its first publication of quarterly GDP estimates for the regions in September, the ONS has now published its next estimates for Wales and the nine English regions, for the year to March 2019. GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013.

The latest comparable figures showed the NI economy grew by 1.3% compared with 1.8% in the year ended December 2018. This ranked the ‘region’ ninth (previously fifth) out of the twelve UK ‘regions’.

London topped the table with growth of 4.2% with Yorkshire and The Humber bottom at -0.3%. Propelled by a drive to meet the original March 31st Brexit date, UK growth over the same period was 2.2%.

The ONS figures also showed that the NI economy grew by 0.4% in the quarter to March 2019. This compared with growth of 0.2% in October to December 2018.

In this period, contributions came from the production sector (0.3%) and construction (0.1%) but the services sector contracted (0.2%).

Estimates published by ESCoE last month for the year ended September 2019, a more recent period than the ONS figures, ranked NI second (previous ranking last) with growth of 1.79%, which suggests the ‘region’ has had a better summer relative to other parts of the UK.

Using this metric, UK growth was 1.45%. Growth in London (ranked first) during this period was 2.32% compared with growth in the South West of England (bottom) at 0.41%

More data from the ONS showed that unemployment fell by 5,000 to 23,000 between July and September; the whopping decrease of 0.6% took the overall rate to 2.5%, the lowest in the UK, the UK rate was 3.8%. The highest rate was 5.9% which was recorded in the North East.

The South West had the highest employment rate at 81.0% which compared with 72.3% in NI; the UK rate was 76.0%. During the last recession the NI employment rate fell to 64%.

In September, average earnings in NI were down by £3 to £542 per week. The lowest earnings of £527 were in Wales. London had the highest average earnings of £830. In the UK overall, average earnings grew by 3.6% or by 1.8% after inflation.

NI average property prices increased by 2.3% (the biggest uplift in the UK) over the month to £139,951, which took the annual rise to 4.0% (also the best in the UK). In comparison, UK prices fell by 0.2% to £234,370 during September, an annual growth rate of 1.3%.