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Concern at Chester unemployment rate spike

Figures show upward trend in unemployment rate for city during 2016

A Jobcentre Plus office. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

There are worrying signs for the Chester economy as Chancellor Philip Hammond works on his speech ahead of Wednesday’s budget (March 8).

Unemployment numbers are at an 11-year low across the country yet latest figures released in January for the City of Chester constituency revealed a staggering 21% year-on-year jump.

The number of claimants – which includes those on Job Seekers Allowance or searching for work on Universal Credit – stood at 880 in December, 2016.

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This is 150 more people on the dole compared with the same month 12 months previously when the figure stood at 730.

In Ellesmere Port and Neston, the claimant count was higher at 990 but unchanged from a year ago. In the Eddisbury constituency, which covers much of the rural part of Cheshire West, unemployment had risen by just 3% to 515.

And in Weaver Vale, which includes Frodsham and Helsby, the claimant count was 935 following a 4% year-on-year rise.

MP for Chester Chris Matheson

Chester MP Chris Matheson does not want to read too much into the Chester figures at this stage.

He said: “Unemployment locally is fluctuating so it is too early to determine long term trends, however I think the jump this month is very disappointing. My biggest concern is about under-employment: people being forced into short-term, temporary or agency work.

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“They are often on zero hours contracts, with no long-term job security or career prospects – this is simply not acceptable. Couple this with the fact that real wages nationally are no higher than they were in 2007, the impact of rising house rents, the increasing cost of living, plus things like rail fares rising above inflation again this month, and you can see why so many families in Chester are, at best, only just managing.”

Damian Hinds, employment minister.(Image: DWP)

Employment Minister Damian Hinds offered a more positive outlook when looking across the country – which has an unemployment rate of 4.8% – and the North West as a whole.

He said: “Employment continues to run at a near-record high, unemployment remains at an 11-year low and both figures are stronger than this time last year – highlighting the strength and resilience of our labour market as we step up to the challenges of 2017.

“It’s good news in the North West where the number of women in work has risen by 48,000 over the past year to record high of 1.64 million women in work.

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“We have made real progress creating a strong economy and helping more people into work, and will do what is needed to continue that trajectory as we build a country that works for everyone.”

Job centres across Cheshire West have been working hard to try and get people back into work.

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In Chester, Army recruitment has been a recent focus. While in Ellesmere Port and Neston the job centre is working with Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet to provide bespoke sector-based training designed to make sure claimants have the skills required to work in the retail environment and prepare them for interviews.

In Northwich, staff have worked closely with Asda, M&S and Odeon to fill more than 200 vacancies at the new Barons Quay town centre retail development. And in Winsford, there has been a recruitment drive to fill more than 200 vacancies at rail signalling and multidisciplinary engineering provider OSL.

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