A region by region look at working in HR in the UK. This month we investigate Northern Ireland. Edited by Ross Wigham, e-mail: [email protected]
Economic recovery takes root despite troubled past
Northern Ireland has traditionally been the UK's smallest regional economy with a population of just 1.7 million. It has also been one of the least prosperous, with employment levels lagging behind the rest of the UK, and a gross value added (GVA) per head 20 per cent lower than the national average. GVA measures individual and industry contributions to the economy.
The region has also suffered from persistent political turmoil which has had an impact on the economy.
The Northern Ireland Assembly was established as part of the Belfast Agreement and after elections, it took responsibility for devolved rule with full legislative and executive authority. However, the assembly was suspended on 14 October 2002, amid great controversy, and the province is currently centrally run from London.
According to the HSBC Regional Focus Report, the economic situation in the province reflects a gradual decline of manufacturing industries and a growth in the service sector.
Despite this, the economy still managed to grow by 2.3 per cent in 2003, slightly better than the UK as a whole. The report predicts this will continue in 2004, with exports lifting the growth to 3 per cent.
The region is also tackling its workforce problems, and the current unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent is actually lower than the EU average. Despite a steady loss of manufacturing jobs, the latest employee jobs figure of 672,150 is the highest on record.
Figures from the Northern Ireland Executive confirm the decline of manufacturing jobs but show they are being absorbed by growth in the service sector. In the past five years, around 16,290 manufacturing jobs have been lost with the number of service sector roles growing by 65,879.
Manpower's Economic Outlook Survey also provides signs for optimism by rating Northern Ireland with a net figure of +20, which is four points above the national average.
Lynne Stevenson, chair of the Northern Ireland branch of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development believes the region offers good business opportunities.
"The signs of economic regeneration can cl