Falling North East unemployment shows there is no need for a new regional advocate in the Government, the employment minister has said.
Esther McVey yesterday used a visit to Newcastle to welcome news that employment across the region was increasing.
The latest unemployment figures show a 10,000 drop in the North East, though at 9.3% it is still the highest in the country.
Nationally unemployment fell by 77,000 between December and February to 2.24 million, official figures showed. The Government said unemployment has dropped below 7% for the first time since the recession.
Ministers also welcomed news that average pay rises have outstripped CPI inflation for the first time in four years. Pay, including bonuses, was 1.7% higher in the year to February, compared to the latest CPI inflation rate of 1.6%.
Speaking at Jamie’s restaurant in Newcastle, Esther McVey said many different schemes were helping lower unemployment. Staff at the restaurant have been helped into work through a Government training programme.
That success, she said, showed the region did not need a regional minister, following concern last year that the North East was missing out while Portsmouth had been granted a dedicated representative in government when ministers became fearful of the job loss repercussions at the city’s naval base.
Speaking to The Journal, the minister said: “The improvements are reaching right across the country.
“It’s positive news in its totality, but you cannot get away from the fact that of course there are regional variations. But things are moving in the right direction.”
Asked why there was no dedicated help for the region despite its long running unemployment issue, she said: “We have the local enterprise partnerships, and extra money in the city deals and things such as Big lottery funding that show there are lots of different ways to offer extra support.”
Labour peer Lord Beecham said there was no excuse for not having a dedicated voice of the region in Whitehall.
“We have lost the regional development agency and the Government Office and there is at present no way of securing influence in Government.”
Employment in the North East now stands at 1,206,000 or 69.1% – a rise of 31,000 over the quarter and 40,000 over the year, figures welcomed by the North East Chamber of Commerce.
Mark Stephenson, of the NECC, said: “Businesses in the North East are in bullish mood, particularly in the manufacturing sector, which is great news. However, the rise in employment does not come without challenges, not least of all the fact that good staff will be in shorter supply and this in turn will place pressures upon wage costs.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “Today we have the highest ever female employment rate, fewer unemployed young people, more jobs outside of London and more people in new full-time jobs.
“This shows that the coalition Government has laid the foundations for a stronger economy, helping to create more than 1.7 million new private sector jobs since the election.
“We have worked hard to repair and rebalance the economy.”