Posted on Wednesday 15 August 2012 by Ulster Business

Job centre

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has admitted it is time for “a renewed and robust strategy” to tackle unemployment after another set of disappointing labour market statistics.

Figures released today for the period April - June 2012 show that the Northern Ireland unemployment rate was up 0.9 percentage points over the quarter at 7.6%.

More recent figures for July 2012 showed that the number of unemployment benefit claimants increased by 400 from the previous month to 63,200.

While the wider unemployment rate remains below the UK average of 8%, Northern Ireland’s claimant count rate of 6.9% last month was well above the UK rate of 4.9% and the second highest among the twelve UK regions.

The figures also showed the unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds in the April to June quarter at 22.3% - up 5.3 percentage points over the year.

Minister Foster said the latest unemployment figures reflected a wider environment of weak external demand.

“This year the Eurozone continues to face a very challenging economic climate and the level of growth in the global economy has been disappointing. Last month the UK also reported three consecutive quarters of falling output,” she said.

“I believe there are many opportunities available for local businesses. That is why I have asked Invest NI to work with the wider business base in Northern Ireland and redouble our efforts to boost employment through initiatives such as Boosting Business and the Jobs fund.”

The Minister said there were still many opportunities to be exploited in overseas markets, as demonstrated by Wrightbus securing a £40m deal in Singapore this week.

“We need more local businesses to follow this path,” she said.

Northern Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said the unemployment figures were disappointing but not surprising given the weak economic environment.

“The high unemployment rate for young people in particular suggests that there is still a lot of ground work to be done, in terms of local labour market policies, to keep these young people connected to the work environment through training and/or work placements.

“To avoid a lost generation, a social partnership approach is necessary whereby the private sector, the public sector, trade unions and government work together to formulate and implement solutions,” she said.

Glyn Roberts from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said there needed to be a focus on providing solutions rather than dwelling on the problem.

“The Executive should consider producing an emergency Small Business Growth Bill which would include new measures to support local businesses growth, in employing more staff and investing,” he said.

“Measures such as radically reducing red tape, making employment law more small business friendly, establishing Enterprise Zones and extending the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme could be included in an Executive Small Business Growth Bill to kick-start recovery in our small business sector.”

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