By Russell Bruce
Against a background of sluggish economic performance and rising unemployment in England, Scotland bucked the UK trend again this month with a further cut in the unemployment rate.
Against a long established trend in previous decades of high unemployment Scotland now turns in one of the best figures of the UK nations and regions of England.
Last month I looked at the widening gap with London region in Scotland’s favour. With London’s unemployment then standing at 9.5% and Scotland on 7.7% Scotland was putting in a strong performance against a background of the economic challenges of 2011.
The latest Labour Market Statistics from ONS show that Scottish unemployment fell by 0.2% and unemployment in London rose by 0.1% so the gap has widened this from 1.8% to 2.1%.
Of the nine English regions, in seven, the unemployment rate either rose or remained the same. Only the North West of England at 8.3% showed an improvement and the East of England made a similar gain to Scotland.
Overall the north south gap doubled with the English total now standing at 7.9%, as last month, but unemployment in Scotland down to 7.5%.
Speaking about September’s report First Minister, Alex Samond said,
“It is encouraging to see Scotland’s labour market continuing to improve. In the quarter May-July 2011, unemployment in Scotland fell by 3,000 and employment rose by 23,000 – while in the UK as a whole unemployment increased by 80,000 to above 2.5 million, while employment fell by 69,000.
“We also have the largest decline in the unemployment rate over the year. Indeed, the rise in Scottish employment over the year of 36,000 encompasses the entire UK-wide figure of 24,000.”
Referring to the refreshed economic strategy unveiled this week Mr Salmond said: “We set out how we are focussing our efforts on accelerating recovery, creating jobs and developing a more resilient and adaptable economy.”
But Alex Salmond also repeated his call for UK Chancellor, George Osbourne, to produce a plan B and stressed the importance of devolving further economic powers to Scotland Mr Salmond added: “This would enable us to do even more to enhance investment and jobs in the Scottish economy, and give Scotland a major competitive edge.”
Although the north/south divide is running in Scotland’s favour at the moment this is actually a cause for concern and Alex Salmond is right to call the Westminster Government to produce a plan B – indeed any plan.
Why should we worry about the deteriorating situation south of the Border? The reason is quite simple. England is our largest market and if the type of investment measures introduced by the Scottish Government are not copied by Westminister, the stalling nature of the economy in England could have an impact on Scottish economic recovery and growth.