By Maximilian Clarke

Employment over the last quarter remained unchanged at 70.3 as unemployment crept up to maintain the 17-year high.

And whilst the rapid job losses seen last year appear to have slowed, the private sector recovery has yet to appear and unemployment and economic inactivity remain perilously high.

Joblessness is particularly acute in the North, with more than 10% of the North East classified as unemployed as the number continues to rise.

Reating to today’s quarterly employment figures from the Office for National Statistics, economists, recruitment professionals and trade unionists comment on the prolongued labour market unrest:

Neil Carberry, Director for Employment at the the Confederation of British Industry, the UK’s foremost business lobby, welcomes the slowed pace of joblessness and the growth in public sector jobs before calling on the Chancellor to do more to support growth:

"While unemployment has risen again, thankfully the pace of increase has continued to slow, as we have seen in previous months.

“Overall employment remained broadly flat over the past three months, but it’s encouraging that private sector jobs rose in the last quarter of 2011. During that period, private sector jobs more than compensated for the losses in the public sector. Growth in private sector jobs has also been driven by rising numbers of employees, rather than the self-employed, which suggests that firms are beginning to feel more confident about taking on new staff.

"However, with the recovery at a critical stage, it's vital that the Chancellor uses next week's Budget to unlock business investment, as only sustainable private sector growth will help tackle unemployment."

David Kern, Chief Economist at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), again calls on the Chancellor to make Budget 2012 a Budget for Jobs:

“With economic pressures facing both the UK and the eurozone, these figures are disappointing, but unsurprising. One positive feature is that the increase in unemployment was the smallest since the three months to May 2011. Furthermore, in the final three months of last year the number of people employed in the private sector increased by 45,000, while public sector employment fell by 37,000. This shows that the private sector is willing and able to drive the economy forward at a time when the public sector is shrinking.

“But there are some causes for concern. Youth unemployment has risen further and remains above one million. However, the figure includes more than 300,000 people in full-time education who are looking for work. The record high number of those working part-time because they couldn’t find a full-time job is also worrying.

“We urge the Chancellor to use next week’s Budget to introduce measures that will allow businesses to create even more jobs. The government must ensure that the Youth Contract scheme works effectively, and should scale up incentives for businesses to hire young people. Tax rises, like the business rates rise scheduled for April, should be scrapped to give employers confidence. In our recent forecast, we predicted unemployment will hit 2.9 million in the first quarter of 2013, a net increase of 230,000. With job losses in the public sector likely to continue, private-sector job creation must be put at the top of the government’s agenda.”

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, the UK’s leaging trades union, lamented the ‘appalling figures’, warning of a ‘lost generation’ before blasting Chancellor Osborne’s ‘misguided’ austerity plan:

“What these appalling unemployment figures show is that next week’s budget needs to be about jobs and growth.

“Unemployment is desperate for all those without work. This government is creating both a lost generation of young people and a forgotten generation of older workers, who may never work again.

“There is so much potential at both ends of the age spectrum that is being wasted by the misguided austerity addiction of chancellor George Osborne.

“What we are proposing for the budget can be divided into three distinct areas: growth and jobs; wage and tax justice; and fairness at work.”

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