Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Economic Dichotomy: A Look at Northern Ireland’s 2023 Sector Performances – Services Slowdown and Manufacturing Surge


North’s Services Sector Witnesses Slowdown in Final Quarter of 2023, While Manufacturing Sees Growth

In the closing months of 2023, the northern economy displayed a mix of outcomes across its sectors. Official data has highlighted a slowdown in the services sector, despite the continued growth in manufacturing, marking an uneven end to the year for different areas of the economy.

Services Sector Slows Down

The services sector, encompassing a wide range of activities from business services, banking, to retail and hospitality, experienced a contraction of 0.3% in the final quarter (Q4) of 2023. This sector, which plays a crucial role in the economy, accounting for just over half of Northern Ireland’s economic output, faced challenges despite positive growth in specific sub-sectors. Particularly, the business services and finance sub-sector, which has seen a significant increase of 29% since the end of 2019, did not prevent the overall contraction.

This decline in the services sector occurred in a period where the UK as a whole also saw a contraction of 0.2% in its services sector, contributing factors to the country entering a technical recession after successive GDP contractions in the third and fourth quarters of 2023.

Northern Ireland’s Economic Resilience

Despite the downturn in services, Northern Ireland’s economy showed signs of resilience in other areas. The Northern Ireland Composite Economic Index (NICEI), a broad measure of economic performance, indicated growth of 0.6% in the third quarter of 2023. However, with the services sector’s fourth-quarter contraction, the overall impact on the NICEI for Q4 remains to be seen.

Manufacturing Ends on a High Note

Contrasting the services sector, Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector ended 2023 on a positive note. The index of production grew by 0.4% between the third and fourth quarters of last year, with manufacturing firms and the quarrying and mining sector particularly performing well. This growth is noteworthy, especially considering the 3.3% overall reduction in the index of production from the end of 2022 to the end of 2023, showcasing how specific sub-sectors have contributed to economic resilience.

Significant growth has been witnessed in the machinery and equipment sub-sector, which has expanded by 39% since the fourth quarter of 2019. This growth highlights the dynamic nature of the manufacturing industry, with some areas booming despite broader challenges.

Services Sector’s Mixed Fortunes

Within the services sector, there have been contrasting fortunes. While business services and finance firms saw an output rise of 1.4% in Q4, leaving them significantly above pre-pandemic levels, other areas such as retail and ‘other services’ faced declines. The retail sales index saw a contraction of 0.7% in Q4, and the ‘other services’ sub-sector, which includes arts, entertainment, and personal services, experienced a significant decrease of 5.5%.

Despite these challenges, it’s remarkable that the services output in Northern Ireland in Q4 2023 was up 1.9% over the year, in comparison to a 0.2% contraction in the UK. This indicates that the services sector in Northern Ireland has generally outperformed its UK counterpart since the Coronavirus pandemic, standing 7% above pre-pandemic levels, while UK services output is only 3.3% up.


The final quarter of 2023 presented a mixed picture for Northern Ireland’s economy, with significant growth in certain manufacturing sectors contradicting the slowdown in the broader services sector. This diversity of performance underlines the complexities of economic recovery and growth, showcasing how different sectors can experience varying trends even within the same broader economic climate.

Alexandra Bennett
Alexandra Bennetthttps://www.businessorbital.com/
Alexandra Bennett is a seasoned business journalist with over a decade of experience covering the global economy, finance, and corporate strategies. With a Bachelor's degree in Economics and a Master's in Business Journalism from Columbia University, Alexandra has built a reputation for her insightful analysis and ability to break down complex economic trends into understandable narratives. Prior to joining our team, she worked for major financial publications in New York and London. Alexandra specializes in mergers and acquisitions, market trends, and economic

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