Fall in jobless prompts hopes of economic recovery

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in the region fell last month as signs emerged suggesting improved health in the jobs market.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics yesterday showed Jobseeker's Allowance claimants in Norfolk fell by 201 in November to 15,994, following a rise of 583 in October.

The claimant rate also fell by about 960 in the east of England region to 103,483, and by 179 in Cambridgeshire, to 7,930, while Suffolk saw a slight increase, up 29 to 12,065.

The falls in Norfolk and the region are likely to have been partly a result of increased demand for seasonal workers in the run up to Christmas, particularly in the food production and retail sectors, compensating for public sector job cuts.

But Chris Starkie, chief executive of economic development partnership Shaping Norfolk's Future, warned the full impact of cuts in councils, police and NHS bodies would not be reflected in the figures until next spring.

He said: 'It is pleasing to see the numbers claiming Jobseeker's Allowance reduced month on month after what was a pretty steep increase in October.

'We would expect a degree of volatility over the next few months as job losses in the public sector begin to be offset by growth and continued recovery in the private sector.

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'It's hard to predict how numbers will change over the coming months but we are now reliant on the private sector to drive forward the economy.'

Despite growth in most private sector industries, Mr Starkie warned there were 'threats on the horizon' for businesses, particularly the impact of January's VAT rise, when retailers would already be looking to shed temporary workers recruited over the Christmas trading period.

But there are further signs of improving health in the region's jobs market, with 4,990 vacancies notified to Norfolk's job centres in November, up from 4,118 in the same month in 2009.

Month on month, vacancies were up in health and social work and stable in professional services, while in manufacturing the number was down slightly.

Redundancies notified to job centres also fell from 238 in October to 165 last month (significantly down on the 248 in November last year).

Mr Starkie added: 'The impacts of the public sector cuts will not be reflected in the figures until next spring, when contracts end and new budgets start.

'But if the private sector continues to grow there is a reasonable prospect that many of those who lose their jobs will be able to find alternative employment.'

Prior to October's hike, claimant figures had fallen every month for eight months in Norfolk.

But despite the fall regionally, separate unemployment figures nationally showed a 35,000 increase in unemployment in the three months to October, to a total of 2.5 million, or 7.9pc of people of the working age population - the highest level since the start of the year.

The number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work also increased by 28,000 to 943,000, one of the highest figures since records began in 1992, giving a jobless rate of 19.8pc.

How the districts fared

The number of Jobseeker's Allowance claimants in Norwich fell by 116 in November to 3,979, with the figure in Breckland dropping 86 to 2,041, South Norfolk down 62 at 1,407 and King's Lynn and West Norfolk down 64 at 2,484.

Two of the county's districts - Great Yarmouth and North Norfolk - saw a rise in claimants, up 96 and 35 respectively.

In Suffolk, Waveney saw an increase of 33 to 2,877, St Edmundsbury was up 34 at 1,395, while Mid Suffolk saw a drop of 32 to 1,082 and Forest Heath a fall of 11 at 838.

East Cambridge saw a fall of 39 to 933.