Foster comments on latest labour market figures

Figures released today for the period November 2011- January 2012 show that the Northern Ireland unemployment rate fell over the quarter to 6.5%.

However, more recent figures for February 2012 show that the number of unemployment benefit claimants increased by 200 from the previous month’s revised figure.

The total number of employee jobs in Northern Ireland was estimated at 694,420 for December 2011, representing a fall of 3,070 (0.4%) over the quarter.

Commenting on the figures, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “The decrease in the Northern Ireland unemployment rate is welcome and the latest labour market figures for Northern Ireland continue to demonstrate that our current unemployment rate of 6.5% compares favourably to the equivalent rates for the UK (8.4%), European Union (9.9%) and Republic of Ireland (14.5%).

“However, more recent figures for February 2012 show an increase of 200 in the number of people claiming unemployment benefits. This increase in the claimant count highlights the continued pressures on the labour market in Northern Ireland in 2012.

“On a more positive note, manufacturing jobs have now grown for the third consecutive quarter demonstrating the resilience of the sector. This continued increase in manufacturing jobs has occurred against a backdrop of challenging market conditions. It highlights the advantages to be gained by adopting a competitive export oriented focus.”

Arlene Foster continued: “Yesterday, I launched the Economic Strategy, which aims to promote over 25,000 new jobs and provide significant investment into our economy to support business growth.

“It is essential that businesses exploit all opportunities, both internally and externally, in developing traditional markets or in exploring niche opportunities.

“In order to ensure firms are fully primed to exploit such opportunities, I have recently announced various initiatives to improve access to finance, including the £50million Growth Loan Fund, which will safeguard and create over 2,000 jobs within the next ten years. This will increase the availability of, and improve the ease of access to funding for a range of companies.

“I also announced last week the appointment of Clarendon to deliver the Co-investment Fund which is a £16million equity fund aimed at stimulating the availability of risk capital to SMEs across Northern Ireland. These measures will help our local companies grow and meet our Programme for Government targets.

“Invest Northern Ireland will also provide expert advice to ensure that companies with high growth potential are not hindered in seeking to expand and create jobs.”