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ONS figures show jobless total at its highest since 1994, yet employer confidence is increasing, says REC


Unemployment levels are continuing to increase, with the number unemployed in the UK rising by 43,000 to 2.5 million during the three months to February, official figures have shown.

The jobless total is now at its highest since 1994, with the rate of employment reaching 8%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "These figures are disappointing but not surprising given the worrying trends that have been apparent in recent months. They support the BCC's forecast that unemployment is set to reach 2.65 million later this year.
"In addition to a rise in unemployment that reverses recent declines, we have witnessed a large fall in employment and a sharp increase in inactivity. The number of people working part-time has risen to a record high.
"Whatever the result of the Election, a new government must enable businesses to invest and create jobs. Scrapping the proposed employer National Insurance increase next year appears even more important in the light of these figures. It is equally important that the regulatory burdens on business are limited in the coming years."

But conversely the Recruitment and Employment Confederation's April Jobs Outlook survey shows the highest employer confidence recorded so far this year.

A total of 96% of employers surveyed stated they now expect their permanent workforces to remain static or grow within the next three months - a rise of 2% on the previous month.  

The longer-term outlook is also encouraging with 94% of employers expecting to maintain or grow their permanent workforce over the next 12 months.

On top of this, one in three employers - compared with one in four last month - expects to either increase or keep static their use of temporary workers in the next 12 months. This underlines the importance of agency work as a source of flexibility for businesses and as an important route back into work for jobseekers.

Roger Tweedy, the REC's director of research, said: "This is the most encouraging sign we have had so far that the jobs market is now gathering momentum led by a higher demand for temporary workers. Following last month's slight dip in employer confidence businesses are forging ahead with plans to stabilise or expand their workforces. This fits with the feedback from professional recruiters on the ground, who are reporting increased hiring activity in most sectors.

"Looking ahead, public-sector cuts could act as a counterweight to the improving jobs outlook in the private sector. Post-election, the debate will need to focus on new ways of delivering public services rather than on short-term cuts, and this is one of the main thrusts of our current public-sector resourcing campaign.

"The kind of flexible staffing models that are in high demand in the private sector could provide cost-effective solutions for public bodies. This could also maintain employment opportunities - particularly in regions that are heavily reliant on public-sector jobs. This whole issue will be discussed at the REC's public sector summit in June when recruiters and employers working in the sector will have a chance to explore the future of public sector resourcing over the next five years."