NI production and services output in 'biggest fall since 2005'

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Belfast in May during coronavirus pandemicImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Many businesses effectively had to close overnight due to coronavirus

Between April and July this year, two parts of the Northern Ireland economy saw their biggest fall since 2005.

Official figures show services - the largest sector of the NI economy - reported an almost 18% fall in output.

The decrease was caused by declines in retail, food service and accommodation, as well as information and communications services.

Figures also show the production sector reported a 15% fall in output between April and June.

Production is made up of manufacturing, water, electricity and mining.

'Sudden and catastrophic' downturn

On Thursday afternoon, a County Down printing company became the latest casualty of the downturn as it announced it had gone into administration with the loss of 40 jobs.

Newtownards firm Peninsula Print and Design, which had been trading for more than 30 years, said it had experienced "sudden and catastrophic" losses over the past six months.

While staff members had been on the government furlough scheme, a major slump in new orders meant the business had no other option but to close, it said.

Huge falls but better than expected

While these are huge falls in both services and production, they are not surprising given the number of businesses which effectively had to close overnight.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey suggests the figures are actually better than some had predicted.

In a tweet, Mr Ramsey the "economic indicator freak show continues".

"These record rates of decline are arguably better than expected. But like a game of snakes and ladders, services output is now below 2005 levels," he posted.

If we take a look at the breakdown of different services, for example, hospitality output fell by less in Northern Ireland than the rest of the UK.

The biggest fall was in "other" services, which includes everything from beauty salons to dentists, as well as leisure, arts and entertainment.

Activity fell by almost 40% but many of these services were restricted during lockdown.

What will be important is the speed at which each of these sectors can recover as lockdown is eased.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) said both the services and production sectors reported the biggest quarterly fall since their records began 15 years ago.

It said the statistical release captured the direct effects of the coronavirus pandemic and measures taken to reduce transmission of the virus.

"The most significant was the introduction of restrictions in movement, which began on 23 March 2020," the agency said.

"Quarter 2 (April to June) 2020 is the first quarter that has been affected from start to finish."