Business leaders hail brighter outlook for jobs

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Business leaders have welcomed an improvement in the West Midlands’ employment picture – even if the region still trails behind the UK average.

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show the employment rate in the West Midlands for the April to June quarter reached 72.3 – a 0.9% improvement on the January to March quarter; equivalent to 32,000 jobs.

However, this was still well below the UK average of 75.1.

Unemployment across the region was little changed for the April to June period, standing at 164,000 – a rise of just 3,000. This was barely enough to register on the statistics, with the rate remaining at 5.8% – also well above the UK average of 4.4%.

Nationally, there were 1.48m people classed as unemployed for the April to June period – its lowest level since 1975.

Paul Faulkner, chief executive of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “The latest regional labour market statistics are encouraging, particularly given the large increase in workforce jobs in the region, and the strong upward trend in employment figures, coupled with a significant drop in economic inactivity over the last quarter.

“However, the unemployment rate remains stubbornly unchanged, so while we welcome ongoing good news on jobs creation, there is more to be done to get unemployment down to the national average.”

Karl Edge, Birmingham Office Senior Partner and Midlands Regional Chairman at KPMG, said: “With positive news today on a UK-wide rise in employment, the West Midlands continues to show that we are the powerhouse for growth with the largest increase in workforce jobs of any region.

“This is testament to the strength of the West Midlands and the contribution that it makes to the UK’s economy overall, proving our appeal as a top place to live and work.

“You only need to walk through the streets of our towns and cities to see evidence of the investment that’s contributing to the region’s growth and transformation. What we need to do now is ensure that we can keep up this momentum so more people can make the most of the opportunities ahead.”

There was a mixed picture in Coventry and Warwickshire, where the chamber of commerce records figures on a monthly basis.

In the month to July, unemployment fell from 4,415 to 4,300 in Coventry, while in Warwickshire it rose from 4,275 to 4,355.

Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said the overall drop in unemployment is positive for the region, but said more work can be done to continue to drive more people into employment.

“We’re encouraged to see that unemployment has fallen again across our area, but as the slight rise in Warwickshire indicates, we cannot afford any level of complacency,” she said.

“From speaking to businesses across our patch, and the research the chamber carries out, business confidence in the region is high and organisations are continuing to expand and create new jobs.

“Many businesses are however still facing headaches matching skills available to the roles they require, and the on-going uncertainty of the Brexit negotiations on recruitment processes.”