BUSINESS leaders have called for more to be done to boost the economy in East Anglia despite new figures which showed the highest numbers of people across the UK in work since records began in 1971.

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The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance has fallen to a near two-year low after a huge increase in employment, with almost 30 million people were in work at the end of 2012, an increase of 154,000 on the quarter to September.

The so-called claimant count fell for the third month in a row in January, down by 12,500 to 1.54 million, the lowest since June 2011.

Unemployment, including those not eligible for benefit, fell by 14,000 across the UK in the final quarter of last year to 2.5 million - 156,000 lower than a year ago.

Figures also revealed that the East of England saw no change in its total number of unemployed between October and December, which stuck at 212,000, with an unemployment rate of 6.8%.

Chris Soule, Federation of Small Businesses Suffolk branch chairman, said signs were “positive”, but pointed to a New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) under-spend of £2million, and called on it to do more.

“The continued increase in self-employment, while partly a consequence of job losses elsewhere, highlights the remarkable resilience of the labour market at a time when the economy remains fragile. These people, with the right support, will be the job creators of the future. With only a month to go until the Budget, we need to see the Government take concrete steps to support enterprise and recognise the critical social and economic role played by small firms in the labour market,” he said.

But he added: “Not one LEP has been responsible for the creation of new jobs and in our area, where small businesses are a big employer. We expect more to be done with the LEP Plan for Growth and funding to create more jobs and to stimulate the economy.”

Andy Wood, chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “It has never been the role of Local Enterprise Partnerships to create jobs – but to foster an environment in which the private sector can invest and create jobs.

“We have allocated all our Growing Places Funds to get infrastructure projects moving, including the first stage of the Haverhill Research Park, where construction is under way and we have created the Enterprise Zone in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, home to the new headquarters of Seajacks, which has already expanded its workforce since moving in last year.”

The LEP remained concerned that business confidence remains fragile and would like to see more measures to stimulate demand, he added.

Luke Morris, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Institute of Directors, said: “The stats are clearly good news for the region but do leave questions unanswered. How many more jobs could the private sector create if businesses were freed from onerous employment law? Will the jobs that have been created actually be reflected in the region’s output?

“If we want to see faster GDP growth then the Government has to become more aggressive, with more radical labour market reforms targeted at those key productive areas of our economy, such as in agriculture and food, advanced manufacturing, energy, and ports and logistics.”

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