Gloomy outlook for West Midlands as unemployment rises

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The West Midlands has again bucked the trend of falling unemployment with the region’s jobless rate now the worst anywhere in the UK outside London.

Despite upbeat forecasts in recent months, latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show unemployment in the region rose by 6,000 to 166,000 in the February to April quarter.

The region’s unemployment rate now stands at 5.9% – the highest anywhere outside London (6%) and in sharp contrast to the national average of 4.6%.

The region’s employment rate also suffered. At 71.8% it is lowest anywhere in the UK except Northern Ireland. There were 36,000 fewer people employed across the region by the end of April when compared with the figure at the end of the November to January quarter.

Nationally, 1.53m people are classed as unemployed, 50,000 fewer than the November to January quarter. The national unemployment rate (4.6%) is now the lowest since 1975.

The UK’s average employment rate by the end of April was 74.8% – the highest it has been since comparable records began in 1971.

In Coventry and Warwickshire, where the chamber of commerce collates figures on a month-by-month basis, the picture was slightly more encouraging.

There was a slight rise in Warwickshire, from 4,315 to 4,375 in the month to May, and a drop in Coventry from 4,575 to 4,455 meaning an overall fall in the area.

Nevertheless, the chamber said there was no room for complacency and the future focus had to be on skills development.

Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “When we speak to members, they are looking to recruit but can’t find people with the right skills.

“So, the need to take on staff is not being matched by the numbers of people moving into work.

“We know through our work with Warwickshire County Council on our Quarterly Economic Survey that there is a shortage of skills in many sectors and only by solving that can we expect to really make a big impression on the unemployment figures.”

She said there was still major uncertainty around the new Government and what it is realistically capable of achieving.

“At this stage it is absolutely imperative that we get on top of the skills shortage to ensure we keep the economy growing and unemployment falling,” she added.

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