The latest official figures from the Office for National Statistics show that unemployment in Scotland has fallen to its lowest level for almost 5 years. This follows a sharp drop towards the end of last year and has brought the unemployment rate down to 6.4% – its lowest level in January for five years. The number of jobless now stands at 176,000, down by 25,000 on the previous quarter.
Earlier this month, the Scottish government published estimates which concluded that the economy here had grown by 0.7% in the third quarter of last year. This was in addition to a number of other recent surveys which have also shown very positive signs about the state of the economy. For instance, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce published a survey which suggested that economic activity and growth were both at their highest levels for many years, suggesting that the worst of the recession may now have passed.
The figures have been broadly welcomed across the political spectrum. Scotland’s Finance Secretary, John Swinney, said that the figures “provide more positive news for the Scottish economy, with the number of people in employment in Scotland continuing to increase, following on from last week strong GDP results. Scotland has a higher employment rate and lower unemployment rate in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Consistent increases in employment levels show that the policies of the Scottish government to create jobs and boost the economy are making progress.”
In the view of the Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, “it’s extremely encouraging to see unemployment in Scotland at its lowest level in nearly 5 years and employment increasing by 90,000 over the past year. The number of people in work in Scotland is close to the record highs seen before the recession and there has been a big fall in the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.”
For Scottish Labour, the finance spokesman, Iain Gray, described the latest figures as welcome but added that the Scottish government needed to commit to further action. “We need to be confident that these additional jobs are sustainable,” he said, “and will lead to increased consumer spending. We need to look behind the headlines and make sure the opportunities that are available full-time are secure and give people the scope to plan for their future and put our economy back to pre-recession levels.”
Colin Borland, the Head of External Affairs at the Federation of Small Business, said that every business which had increased their headcount over the last quarter had their part to play in today’s statistics. “These figures match the FSB’s, which show that Scottish small firms plan growth and investment in 2014. It’s important to remember that the recovery is neither uniform or assured,” he added. “Communities across Scotland need small enterprises and all levels of government to collaborate to continue to drive growth and create jobs.”
The employment figures were also welcomed by Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress. He described the figures as “a great way to start the New Year. It also encouraging that both women and men experienced falls in unemployment over the last quarter and that long-term unemployment starts to fall across all age–groups.” But he went on to add that there were reasons to be cautious about the strength of the recovery, concluding that the figures, while welcome, “provide no cause for complacency.”