Opinion Former Article

ESRC: Closing the productivity gap in Northern Ireland

The nature of Northern Ireland's productivity gap and some potential policymaking solutions are outlined in a new publication, 'Sub-sectoral Productivity in Northern Ireland'. The booklet, funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Northern Ireland) presents the views of two leading experts on productivity, Dr Chiara Criscuolo and Professor Richard Harris.

The growth of Northern Ireland's economic output has been comparatively strong in recent years. However, using a variety of productivity measures, the country performs poorly when compared with other European countries, the US and Japan. In terms of productivity, since the 1960s, Northern Ireland has consistently underperformed, compared to the UK average, in terms of Gross Value Added (GVA) per head of population and, despite recent relative improvements, Northern Ireland's GVA remains some 20 per cent below the UK average. Low labour productivity relative to the rest of the UK is one of the key factors behind Northern Ireland's poor economic prosperity.

Northern Ireland's Programme for Government goal is to halve the private sector productivity gap with the UK by 2015. Recent research has identified a number of sectors with specific productivity issues including agriculture, construction, wholesale distribution, financial and business services, transport, and health and social services.

"Of particular concern is lower productivity in certain key service sectors," argues researcher Professor Richard Harris. "In the support of the transport sector, telecoms, financial intermediation, computer and related business services, and especially other business services, productivity is considerably below the UK average."


Kirsty Johnson, ESRC ( email: knowledgetransfer@esrc.ac.uk)
Tony Simpson, Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (Northern Ireland), (email: tony.simpson@detini.gov.uk)


Kelly Barnett (Tel: 01793 413032 / 07826874166, email: kelly.barnett@esrc.ac.uk)
Danielle Moore (Tel: 01793 413122, email: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk)


1. Gross Value Added is the difference between output and intermediate consumption for any given sector/industry. That is the difference between the value of goods and services produced and the cost of raw materials and other inputs that are used up in production. For further details see: www.statistics.gov.uk/about/glossary/economic_terms.asp

2. 'Sub-sectoral Productivity in Northern Ireland' considers the reasons underlying poor productivity performance, outlines several policymaking options, and calls for more data and research in key areas contributing NI's productivity gap.

3. A wide range of participants from government bodies, the public and private sector and academia took part in the one day ESRC Public Policy Seminar and launch event for the booklet, 'Sub-sectoral Productivity in Northern Ireland' held in Belfast on 22 April 2008.

4. The ESRC Public Policy Seminar research briefing 'Sub-sectoral productivity in Nothern Ireland' is funded jointly by the ESRC and the DETI (Northern Ireland). The briefing accompanied a one-day seminar that explored the issue of Northern Ireland's productivity held in Belfast on 22 April 2008.

5. The briefing features presentations by the two seminar speakers Dr Chiara Criscuolo (BSc, MSc, PhD), Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics (email: c.criscuolo@lse.ac.uk) and Professor Richard Harris (BA, MA, PhD), Director of the Centre for Public Policy for Regions (CPPR) and the Cairncross Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Glasgow (r.harris@socsci.gla.ac.uk).

6. For further information on Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (Northern Ireland) visit www.detini.gov.uk

7. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2008/09 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

8. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

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