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The North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s (North East LEP) Strategy and Policy Director, Richard Baker, has commented on today’s regional labour market statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

“Looking at today’s regional labour market statistics, the most important factor to note is that government support schemes have helped keep a significant number of people in employment since March. Data from HMRC shows more than 250,000 people in the North East LEP area have been supported by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and a further 54,000 self-employed people received government grants.

“Going into lockdown, the data shows that the North East region’s labour market was making further progress towards bridging the employment rate gap with other parts of the country. However, we know that the labour market is severely disrupted and that this is not the current position for our region, and the 55% increase in the number of people claiming Universal Credit in the North East LEP area since March 2020 is a clear warning about future risks. Whilst numbers here may be lower than increases seen across England as a whole, they do highlight the reality of the situation for many people in our region.

“Unfortunately, standard ONS employment data does not currently provide the analysis we need to assess the overall current status of regional and local labour markets. Looking at the national level as an indicator, the data suggests that the UK has around 650,000 fewer employees on payrolls than in March 2020 and that, in June, there were approximately half a million employees away from their jobs specifically for coronavirus-related reasons that were receiving no pay while their job was on hold. 

“We cannot, therefore, come to a definitive view about the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on employment figures. It will only be when government support packages end that we begin to see the true picture, and this combination of data shows the importance of a carefully designed approach to winding down Government support and the importance of boosting economic activity.

“The North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group, which was set up by the North East LEP, our Combined Authorities, Business and Universities to support the regions economy through the coronavirus pandemic, recently published a summary report highlighting its approach to help stabilise the economy. Protecting people’s jobs and supporting businesses to retain staff will be vital in the coming months, otherwise we can expect unemployment figures to rise significantly in the latter part of the year.”

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