Scottish recovery continues as unemployment falls again

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The Scottish Government’s ‘robust action’ to support jobs, skills and training – prioritised in the Budget approved by Parliament last week – is delivering ‘encouraging results’, Enterprise Minister Jim Mather has said.

Mr Mather was speaking as new figures showed unemployment in Scotland fell by 13,000, during the three months to December 2010.  Figures also show those in employment rose by 23,000 – a seventh consecutive reported rise.

By contrast, unemployment across the UK as a whole increased by 44,000, and employment fell by 68,000 during the same period.  Scotland is the only UK nation with rising employment and falling unemployment over the quarter.

Commenting Mr Mather said: “For three consecutive monthly labour market statistics releases, we have seen falling unemployment and rising employment in Scotland compared to rising unemployment and falling employment across the UK.

“And [these] figures show Scotland is the only UK nation with rising employment and falling unemployment over the quarter.”

Mr Mather said the figures vindicated the SNP’s recovery plan in the face of a £1.3 billion cut from Westminster and added: “This vindicates the robust and comprehensive action we are taking through our Economic Recovery Plan to protect recovery and support jobs – in the face of a £1.3 billion cut imposed on Scotland by Westminster.

“Our commitment to recovery is underlined in our Budget, now approved by Parliament, which will support 25,000 modern apprenticeships in 2011-12 – the highest ever number in Scotland; provide an extra 2,000 flexible training opportunities, taking the total to 7,000; and deliver a £10 million scheme to support new jobs across Scotland’s small business community.

“And we are currently in active discussions with Scotland’s third sector about establishing an initiative to create employment opportunities for unemployed young people.

“Just last week, the First Minister announced the award of Regional Selective Assistance to support the creation of 150 new Scottish jobs at Outplay Entertainment in Dundee, and the Finance Secretary opened the John Lewis Partnership’s new customer contact centre in Hamilton – which is supporting an extra 200 jobs.  In January alone, the Scottish Government and its agencies announced they will support the creation and safeguarding of at least 3,635 full time jobs.

“While today’s figures are welcome, Scotland’s recovery remains at a crucial stage.  We must continue to bring unemployment down, and the UK Government is wrong to threaten the positive signs we are seeing by cutting the Scottish budget by some £1.3 billion next year – including the massive £800 million cut to our capital budget.  This underlines the urgent need for Scotland to secure full economic and financial powers so that the Scottish Government and Parliament have all the tools needed to sustain growth and further boost employment.”

Scottish unemployment fell by 0.5 percentage points to 8.0 per cent during the three months to December 2010.  The UK unemployment rate rose by 0.1 percentage points to 7.9 per cent during the same period.

Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Derek Brownlee said the focus should be on the private sector to create new jobs.

He said: “Scotland has relied too heavily on public sector employment in the past and it is time to focus on helping entrepreneurs build new businesses, and on supporting existing small businesses.”

Labour’s Holyrood leader Iain Gray claimed the SNP were not doing enough to tackle youth unemployment.  Mr Gray repeated the claims made by his finance spokesman Andy Kerr and described the SNP’s plans for Scotland’s young people as “timid”.

Mr Gray said: “A generation of young Scots are betrayed and in his recent budget Finance Secretary John Swinney didn’t take the immediate, urgent action that was needed.

“It was the usual timid half measures from the SNP letting down our young people when they needed people to stand up for them.”

STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said: “Any fall in unemployment is to be welcomed but the entirety of the statistics does not provide any cause for celebration.

“The claimant-count continues to rise, long-term unemployment is increasing on a number of measures and employment remains far below pre-recession levels.

“Jobs growth is being driven by the increase in part-time work and today’s figures again show a steep rise in involuntary part-time working.”