The proportion of people now in work in the North East has reached its highest ever level, with almost seven out of 10 working-aged people in employment, according to the latest official figures. The employment rate increase from last year is the largest of any region, and over twice the national average.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for March to May this year showed an employment rate of 69.9% and also highlighted other major improvements in the region’s performance in comparison to other parts of the UK.
Overall, a record 1,214,000 people are now in work in the North East, an increase of more than 60,000 compared to the same period last year.
The figures were welcomed by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) as evidence that focused efforts to create more employment opportunities are paying dividends.
North East LEP chief economist, Mauricio Armellini said: “The increase in employment is equivalent to almost nine times the direct employment at Nissan, and almost three times the direct employment at its supply chain.
“This has pushed the regional employment rate up to 69.9%, the absolute highest record for the North East. Indeed, the North East showed the greatest employment rate increase of any region in the country compared to the previous year, outgrowing the UK average by almost 2:1.”
A key part of the positive news was the sharp decrease in the regional inactivity rate – the proportion of working age people who are not employed or looking for work – which fell to a new record low of 22.5%. The region is now rapidly closing the gap with the rest of the country and is less than 1% behind the national average.
Mr Armellini said: “A decrease in unemployment and an increase in the working age population have also contributed to the excellent employment performance. This means that the region is managing to absorb the new entrants to the labour market – young people and those who were previous classed as economically inactive – without increasing unemployment.”
The latest quarterly figures build on a similar strong performance in the previous three months, when regional employment increased by 40,000 compared to the same period in 2013.
The enterprise partnership is working to continue this upward trend through the North East Strategic Economic Plan (SEP) to create more and better jobs, which has secured £290 million from the Government’s Growth Deal. The investment – the third-highest in the UK – will be used to fund projects expected to create a further 4,000 jobs for the region.
The cash injection, unveiled earlier this month (July 7) will help the North East LEP take forward schemes in its SEP focusing on each of the plan’s key themes of innovation, skills, business support, transport, developing economic assets and supporting inclusive growth.
Merchant Park 2, Newton Aycliffe, Swans Wet Birth Infill, North Tyneside, the Rural Growth Network Infrastructure, and innovation, skills and transport programmes are among the projects to benefit directly from the funding. Other schemes in the SEP, which was drawn up in partnership with stakeholders across the region, which did not receive Growth Deal money will continue to be progressed by the enterprise partnership and its partners.
North East LEP chair, Paul Woolston, said: “The latest statistics are proof that the work to create more and better jobs in working and with this additional funding towards schemes in the Strategic Economic Plan, we are confident the region’s record employment figure will continue to rise.
“The ONS figures are not the only set of statistics to show this positive trend; claimant count statistics also exhibit a significant decrease for the region. Alternative data also suggests that construction has been one of the strongest performers in the regional employment over the last year.
“The North East economy is growing, we have more people in work than ever before, and key comparison indicators show we are narrowing the economic gap with other parts of the UK. Our plans to create more and better jobs will play a significant role in this improvement, both in the immediate future and the longer term.”