Northern Ireland’s Manufacturing Sector Among Best Performing in UK

The north’s manufacturing sector is outperforming most other UK regions according to the latest economic survey by the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce.

The report, which covers the first three months of the year, said Northern Ireland’s manufacturing industry was in “relatively good” shape compared to many parts of Britain.

That is despite significantly large falls in jobs and balances regarding investment and confidence.

“The sector ranks in the top three performing UK regions for five of the 14 key balances with no balances in the bottom three performing regions,” it said.

However, against a backdrop of major job losses at plane manufacturer Bombardier and with the closing of the Michelin tyre factory and JTI cigarette plant, Chamber members have called for action.

Respondents said they’d like to see the Northern Ireland Assembly establish a ‘taskforce’ from the private sector charged with “creating a positive plan for the manufacturing sector which will drive competitiveness”.

The chamber found most of its members believed the sector had a future particularly at the higher end of the industry.

Over the quarter, manufacturing employment balances, reflecting balances of business taking on staff in the last three months and those expecting to in the next three months, both fell.

Confidence in both turnover and profitability going forward has also fallen while investment intentions are lower and fewer manufacturers are operating at full capacity.

There were however some small signs of pick up in export orders.

Other initiatives suggested by members to boost the manufacturing sector included educational programmes which support young people in pursuing a career in skills suitable to the manufacturing sector and the early adoption of the lower corporation tax rate.

When it came to the services sector, the chamber said the performance was “poor generally” compared to the UK as a whole.

There was an improvement in the domestic sales balance which increased by 10 points to +19 per cent, however.

The employment balance fell by four points to 11 quarter over the quarter while the cash flow balance deteriorated falling by 19 points to +4 per cent.

Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor said: “There are some signs of growth in the Northern Ireland economy this quarter and it is positive to see an improvement in sales and a slight pickup in export orders in manufacturing.

“However the sense of uncertainty is palpable. More key balances weakened than strengthened and fewer businesses in both manufacturing and services took on staff during the last three months. It is concerning to note that many of the forward looking indicators point to a dampening of employment expectations, investment intentions and confidence going forward.”

Brian Murphy, partner at BDO added: “The real take-home message from the first Quarterly Economic Survey of 2016 is that the mood of industry is resolute and that Northern Ireland’s political establishment must meet its concerns with positive action. In particular, we need to see a concerted strategy that focuses on the region’s potential as a centre of high-value manufacturing excellence.”