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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Cumbrian economy bucking national trend?

Unemployment in Cumbria has fallen sharply in recent months, prompting claims that the economy is in better shape than many people thought.

Rob Johnston photo
Rob Johnston

Official figures show there were 9,122 people receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance last month, 316 fewer than in April.

It was the third consecutive monthly fall.

The claimant count has plunged by 731 since February, although it remains higher than this time last year.

Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, has long argued that the county’s economy is bucking the trend.

He said: “These latest unemployment figures bear out what we’ve been saying, based on the conversations we have with businesses. The economy in Cumbria is stronger than the rest of the UK.”

Mr Johnston believes that the tourism sector is weaker this year, mainly because the Olympics is keeping visitors away from Cumbria, but manufacturing is strong.

He added: “We are seeing really good export figures for the North West. That’s hugely important for Cumbria because we have a strong manufacturing base.”

Unemployment usually falls in the spring because of the creation of seasonal jobs in tourism and construction.

But this year’s drop is much bigger than that in 2011.

The number of claimants fell by 334 in April and 316 in May, compared with falls of 159 and 105 respectively in the same months last year.

Every Cumbrian district saw a fall in joblessness last month.

Youth unemployment is falling too.

The county’s jobless rate for 16-to-24-year olds, at 5.8 per cent, is below the regional and national averages although it is twice that of the working population as a whole.

Carlisle MP John Stevenson is encouraged by the latest figures.

He said: “Retail is going through a choppy spell but other sectors are reasonably robust or expanding.

“It’s encouraging but we mustn’t be complacent.

“There are difficult headwinds, not least the problems in the eurozone. But if Europe can sort out its problems, the Cumbrian economy is well placed when recovery comes.”

However, Stewart Young, leader of the Labour group on Cumbria County Council, sounded a note of caution.

He said: “We know there are further job losses in the pipeline.

“There are 450 jobs at risk directly with the proposed closure of the Benefits Delivery Centre and DVLA offices in Carlisle, and the DSDA munitions depot near Longtown. The real impact of the Government’s spending cuts hasn’t been felt yet. Something like 80 per cent of planned cuts have still to take effect.”

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