Matching jobs to the jobless
Are British workers unwilling to do some British jobs?
Business Secretary Lord Mandelson's assertion that foreign nationals are helping to fill vacancies which locals are "either not available to fill or are unwilling to fill" has caused some controversy.
He argues that there are some half a million vacancies in the UK - which shows, he claims, that "there are jobs available for British nationals despite the circulation of workers that has resulted from EU enlargement".
So what do the latest (Q4 2008) data tell us?
I have been wandering around the official labour market stats on the website of the Office for National Statistics to try to get some answers.
Firstly, a quick overview of Britain in terms of vacancies notified to job centres.
Yes, there are jobs out there - more than 193,000 having been notified to Jobcentre Plus. More interesting, perhaps, is the relationship between those job vacancies and people claiming Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA).
If we take the East Midlands, for example, we can see that in some parts of the region there are 22 JSA claimants chasing every job. In other parts, it is as low as two unemployed people per vacancy.
The areas in dark blue are West Lindsey (22.6) and East Lindsey (19.9) - the places which saw the angry protests over British jobs for British workers in January.
But the large pale area just to the west of them is Newark and Sherwood, where there are just 1.8 JSA claimants for each notified vacancy.
I imagine some might ask why jobseekers in Lindsey do not travel the few miles to Newark in pursuit of work.
The story is even more stark in London.
In the borough of Hackney, 32 people are apparently chasing every job - but in Westminster, it is just three.
You can check out the situation in your local area in this spreadsheet [56Kb MS Excel format].
There are some places in the country where there are more jobs than jobseekers. Using a different database, but working from the same official statistics, I took a close look at the story in Brighton.
Going down to ward level, one can see that there are three parts of Brighton that each has between 90 and 660 vacancies.
In fact, it turns out that the middle of the three yellow areas is called Brighton and Hove 027. In this small part of the city, there are 657 vacancies, mostly "customer service" jobs. However, there are only 317 people claiming JSA in the ward - the largest group aged between 20 and 24.
I cannot be sure, but I wonder whether many of the claimants are former students who would rather claim the dole than stack shelves in the local supermarket.
Obviously, there are all sorts of issues around the way vacancies and jobseekers are counted. The City of London is a case in point: on paper, there are three jobs for every unemployed person in the area, but that is because very few people actually live within the Corporation's boundaries.
I would be grateful for any thoughts you might have on what the wide variations in JSA:vacancy rates tell us about the willingness of British workers to fill half a million British job vacancies.