Scottish unemployment falls by 18,000

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image captionThe Scottish jobless rate is below the average for the whole of the UK.

Unemployment in Scotland fell by 18,000 to 178,000 between January and March while employment reached its highest level since records began in 1992, according to official figures.

The jobless rate was 6.4%, which was below the average of 6.8% for the whole of the UK.

Employment in Scotland rose by 29,000 over the three months.

There are now 2,585,000 people over 16 employed north of the border.

Unemployment for the UK as a whole fell by 133,000 to 2.2 million between January and March.

Office for National Statistics data also showed that the number of people claiming Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) fell by 2,000 from March to 103,000 in April - down by 33,300 on a year ago.

'Significant progress'

Responding to the figures, First Minister Alex Salmond said: "Today's employment figures mark a further improvement on last month's record figures and demonstrate the Scottish government's policy of investing in infrastructure to boost the economy is making significant progress, with employment levels at a record high.

"Female employment has increased by 38,000 over the last year and it is estimated that Scotland has one of the highest rates of female employment in the European Union.

"Scotland continues to outperform the UK across employment, unemployment and inactivity rates, which shows that even with the limited powers over the economy at our disposal we are improving our country's economic health."

'Record number'

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said: "Being part of the large UK single market gives us stability and certainty and helps create jobs and opportunities.

"We now have a record number of Scots in work, wages rising, inflation falling and the highest employment rate of all nations in the UK.

"As our economy recovers and businesses are becoming more confident it is good to see they are employing more and more Scots. Businesses - especially our small and medium size companies - are the driving force of this recovery.

"We will do everything we can to create the conditions needed to support their growth, creating more sustainable jobs especially for our young people and long term unemployed."

Scottish Chambers of Commerce described the fall in the jobless total as "good news".

Chief executive Liz Cameron said: "The overall figure shows that Scottish businesses are becoming more confident to invest in new talent for the growth of their company.

"However, digging deeper with these figures, we can see that males have experienced an increase in employment, but this is not the same case for women, who experienced a fall in employment by 5,000.

"It is crucial that our businesses prioritise a diverse skills base to maximise the opportunities available to the Scottish economy."

'Recovery strengthening'

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) general secretary Grahame Smith said the figures showed the "labour market recovery does appear to be strengthening".

But he added: "It is important that the extent of the challenge that remains is understood.

"Although these figures may have confirmed a 'record Scottish employment level', it must be stressed that the employment rate is still 1.4% below the 74.9% achieved in summer 2007.

"The unemployment rate remains 2.4% above its pre-recession trough and the fall confirmed today only takes the rate back to where it was last autumn."

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