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Unemployment fall raises hopes St Helens' economy is on the mend
12:00pm Thursday 29th August 2013 in News
THE town’s unemployment rate has dropped for the fifth month in a row, raising hopes that the economy is slowly recovering.
July’s figures for the number of people claiming jobseekers allowance dipped below 5,000 for the first time since December 2010, standing at 4,899.
Statistics suggest the jobless number has been lower than that on only one occasion since December 2008 – strengthening the belief that the economic difficulties may be easing.
The Government has suggested drops in unemployment show the economy is “healing” and is on the road to recovery.
St Helens Chamber, which represents businesses, said its quarterly economic survey for July showed companies expected local workforce levels to increase further between August and October.
Tracy Mawson, director of business services at St Helens Chamber, said: “Despite some concerns over youth and long-term unemployment the overall picture is promising.
“It shows a slowly improving labour market, and we also hope to see an improved local picture when our quarter three economic survey results are published in early October.
“The level of inactivity has fallen, and people are starting to return to the workforce, which is all encouraging, however businesses are now under increased pressure to create jobs.”
However, the figures, provided by the Office for National Statistics, do not give an exact picture of employment in St Helens.
They do not take account of people out of work and not claiming benefit, and do not offer a picture showing the number of people who have taken jobs at reduced hours or zero-hours contracts.
Those sceptical about the strength of the recovery argue the figures alone do not portray the squeezed living faced by many working families.
Large numbers of workers are believed to have endured pay freezes or below inflation cost of living rises over several years, heaping pressure on household budgets.
Nevertheless, town leaders regard the jobs figures – along with the millions of pounds worth of investment pumped into St Helens from the private sector this summer – as a sign of optimism.
Leader of St Helens Council Barrie Grunewald said: “This is a really positive sign – and proof that things seem to be improving.
“Boosting the local economy is my number one priority, and while we can’t read too much into these new figures, they’re certainly encouraging.
“We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to make St Helens a great place to do business.
“Together with the Chamber we’re attracting new businesses to the borough – like Nandos and The Range – and are in advanced negotiations on the redevelopment of the former St Thomas Square site in the town centre.
“We’re also increasing our skills base by getting graduates into jobs and creating dozens of new apprenticeships.
“Our recently-announced £2 million financial support scheme will also help small businesses to expand, seize the opportunities which are out there and create much-needed jobs for the future.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Mawson called for more help from the Government to help firms bolster their workforces.
She said: “The private sector is determined and able to create jobs, but it needs more support from Government to sustain this, through increasing the flow of credit to viable businesses, a continued focus on keeping inflation low, and to reverse the large fall in investment in the UK we have seen in recent years.”
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