BUSINESS leaders have welcomed a two-year employment high in the North East but warned more work is needed to cut the dole queue.
The number of people in jobs was 1.175m in the three months to August, up 19,000 over the quarter and 46,000 year-on-year. But the employment rate of 67.9% was the lowest in the country.
Unemployment fell to 129,000 in the same quarter, a drop of 11,000 on the previous three months and 14,000 down on the same period last year. The jobless rate of 9.9% was the highest nationwide, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The jobseekers’ claimant count was up by 700 to 94,300 last month, a rise of 4,900 on the year – although the Government said this was down to welfare reforms.
But the figures showed a rise in all computerised claims for jobseekers’ allowance from 18 to 24-year-olds by 1,000 to 29,600 in September from the previous month. But that was a fall of 200 from September 2011.
Ross Smith, director of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “North East employment levels are now at their highest rate for two years and unemployment at its lowest level for 15 months. The gap between the North East and national rates for both indicators that had opened up in that time has now closed as well.
“This is a clear demonstration that our private sector is overcoming the impact of public sector job losses over the last two years. It is vital we maintain our current trajectory. There is still a three-percentage point gap on employment with pre-recession levels, which is similar to the rest of the UK, and shows there is more work to be done on labour market issues. A relentless focus on skills is critical to addressing this.”
He added the figures supported a recent NECC survey that showed North East businesses expanding their workforce at a faster rate than any point since recession began in 2008. Employment Minister Mark Hoban said there were “good signs” in the region, but accepted there was a lot more work to be done – for example on skills, having recently spoken to the NECC.
Mr Hoban, who be visiting the region next month, said Rolls Royce’s decision to build a plant making aircraft blades in Washington was a vote of confidence in the region.
Conservative Hexham MP Guy Opperman said the figures were “fantastic news”, adding: “I believe we are slowly turning the corner.”