Fear that the region was “out of sight and out of mind” for the Government have been voiced after the latest jobless figures revealed the only place in the UK where unemployment was going up was the North East.
The overall national rate has dropped to 6.6% in the three months to April, the lowest since January 2009, causing Chancellor George Osborne to hail the news as an important step towards the goal of full employment, while Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: “Britain is bouncing back.”
Yet the figures they were celebrating, published by the Office for National Statistics, revealed unemployment in the North East had risen 6,000 to 131,000 from February to April, putting the jobless rate here at 9.8%, again the highest in the UK and by some distance.
Chi Onwurah, Labour’s Newcastle Central MP, said: “They are talking like it’s mission complete but the fact is the North East is still seeing unemployment on the rise.
“It shows that the North East is out of sight and out of mind of this Coalition Government.”
The next lowest figures in the UK are Yorkshire and Humber with 8.2% and the West Midlands with 7.5%. Even Wales, which has suffered economically like the North East because of the collapse of traditional industries like mining, boasts an unemployment rate of 6.6%, the same as the national average.
And while the Government highlighted the news that the number of people in employment in the region had gone up 15,000 from February to April to 1,206,000, there was bad news on the wages front too.
The ONS figures showed the average salary of those in work in the North East has fallen 7.3% year-on-year with women particularly hardest hit with a 10.7% drop. Meanwhile the current CPI rate of inflation is 1.8%.
Mark Stephenson of the North East Chamber of Commerce concentrated on the rise in employment rates in the region and the fall in the claimant count.
He said: “It’s great to see North East employment estimates rising at the fastest rate in the UK for the second consecutive month. Hopefully we are starting to see a trend develop that will see our region make ground on other parts of the UK that experienced these rises earlier in the economic recovery.”
However he added: “The long term measures for employment and the claimant count are positive signs, albeit the total number of unemployed in the North East remains high – especially at the younger end of the labour market. The challenge isn’t abating and casts a shadow over the positive figures we see elsewhere.”