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Mixed picture on economy

Jobless down, wages up, and more retail woe

Data on the economy continues to show a tightening of the labour market, helping to drive up wages.

Scotland’s jobless tally fell by 6,000 in the first three months of the year to 118,000, according to official figures.

The unemployment rate now stands at 4.3%, against the UK figure of 4.2%. The number of people in work aged 16 and over in Scotland fell by 2,000 to 2.63 million.

The UK-wide employment rate continues to be record breaking, reaching the highest level since records began, at 75.6%.  Overall vacancies have reduced to 806,000, down 16,000 on the previous quarter but this remains higher than the same period a year ago.

ONS data showed wages across the UK rose at an annual rate of 2.9% over the period – faster than inflation for the first time in more than a year. Over the same three-month period, the inflation rate was 2.7%.

New figures today reveal further concerns for retailers with Scottish sales down by 3.8% on a like-for-like basis compared to April 2017, when they had increased by 3.0%.

Total sales in Scotland decreased by 3.4% compared with April 2017, when they had increased by 2.5%. This is the lowest since January 2017 and below the three-month and twelve-month averages of -0.5% and 0.0% respectively. 

Sale shop retail

Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy & external affairs at the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers will be feeling decidedly queasy with these post-Easter figures.

“Granted April was distorted, but it was the toughest month since April 2013 for the industry with a real-terms fall of 2.4%.

“Of particular concern are the non-food figures, which were the worst single month performance in six years.”

On the labour market statistics, Minister for Employability and Training Jamie Hepburn said: “The rise in the employment rate is welcome news and shows that despite the challenging economic conditions facing us as a result of Brexit, our economy and jobs market remains strong.

“Our employment rate has increased over the year to 74.7%, with 2,630,00 people now in employment, the unemployment rate has decreased over the quarter and the year to 4.3% and Scotland’s female employment rate has also increased to 71.1%.

“Once more, we continue to outperform the UK on employment and unemployment rates for young people, with 55.6% of young people in employment in Scotland compared to 54.1% of young people in the UK.”

Opponents took a less sympathetic view of the Scottish government’s performance.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “Today’s figures show that Scottish employment and unemployment rates are weaker than the UK’s.

“Instead of constitutional nit-picking the Scottish Government should focus its energies on using the considerable powers it has to strengthen Scotland’s economy and boost productivity. We urge the Scottish Government to work constructively with us to achieve this.”

Jackie BaillieScottish Labour’s Economy spokesperson Jackie Baillie, right, said:  It is welcome that wages have risen in real terms for the first time in more than a year, while unemployment has also fallen.

“But the reality is the Tories and the SNP cannot rest on their laurels after just one encouraging set of figures. We must go further. 

“That is why Scottish Labour is arguing for a real living wage of £10 an hour, as well as a comprehensive review of public procurement to ensure good pay and conditions on taxpayer-funded projects.

“Scottish Labour has also demanded an end to the  pay cap and a fully-funded pay rise for public sector workers.”

Liz Cameron, Chief Executive, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Although the employment news is broadly positive, the subsequent increase in hours worked provided by this boost in jobs has had a knock-on effect on productivity.  

“The ONS flash estimate of productivity released today, has shown a decrease of 0.5% in output per hour and output per worker, in contrast to quarterly increases in late 2017.”



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