The latest figures of the Office for National Statistics show that unemployment in Scotland has fallen again. The number out of work fell by 3,000 to 195,000 between October and December – a jobless rate of 7.1%. Not only that but the level of employment in Scotland increased by 9,000 over the quarter and now stands at over 2.5 million.
In a statement, the Scottish government said that the increase in employment in Scotland of 92,000 over the last 12 months was the largest in nearly seven years. First Minister, Alex Salmond, described it as “a demonstration of this government’s commitment to creating jobs and boosting the economy”. However, he said Scotland could go much further, insisting that “only with the full fiscal and economic powers of independence can we can take a different approach.”
By contrast, the Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael, said that Scotland benefited from being part of the UK. “With business confidence continuing to grow,” he said, “more jobs are being created, and inflation is now below the 2% government target. Together with the Bank of England is revising up its forecast for GDP growth in 2014 it is clear that being part of a large UK single market and an influential EU member benefits Scotland. Our economy is growing because we are part of the UK.”
Business leaders welcomed the new. Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, that that more and more indicators were “pointing towards the economic recovery continuing in 2014 and many businesses are actively recruiting new staff or working to increase productivity levels of existing workers. It is time for government to focus its attention on getting the skills strategy right and ensuring that our schools, colleges and universities are delivering the skills that business needs to take Scotland’s economy forward and fulfilling the potential of our people.”
And Andy Willox, Scottish policy convenor of the Federation of Small Businesses, added that every Scottish employer who chooses to take someone on, and every person that chooses to set-up on their own, played a part in this result. “However,” he said, “the recovery isn’t uniform. We need to see local decision-makers and their business community working closely to ensure that no part of the country is left behind. Feedback from our membership shows that Scottish small businesses are feeling more confident about the future and that they plan to boost capital investment and increase staff numbers during 2014. With the right support, there’s no doubt the small business community can continue to create jobs and drive growth, and that we can increase the pace of employment growth.”
However, Grahame Smith, General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said it was “always dangerous to read too much into one set of ONS figures but today’s report does provide some cause for sober reflection. The big fall in unemployment witnessed in last month’s figures hasn’t been sustained with the Scottish rate now back to over 3% above its trough of summer 2008. It is becoming a concern that the strong momentum of the first half of last year doesn’t appear to have carried through into the second.”
There were also calls for great collaboration between business and the academic worlds. Interface – the knowledge connection for business – said that Scotland’s universities, students and business leaders were being called upon to guarantee employability was top of the agenda and to ensure graduate employment continues to drive the economy and create new jobs.
Dr. Siobhán Jordan, the organisation’s director, pointed out that “both businesses and students need to take responsibility for ensuring that Scotland continues to produce talented and skilled graduates. Excellent schemes, such as Heriot-Watt’s company-led Engineering Design Projects, are in place across Scotland’s universities which help to bridge the gap between academics and industry.”