The number of jobs in manufacturing firms has dipped below three million for the first time since modern records began, new figures showed yesterday.
And, although unemployment nationally has continued to fall, it is still surging in the West Midlands.
Under ILO measurements, there was an overall fall of 3,000 in the unemployment total to 1.69 million in the three months to January, a jobless rate of 5.5 per cent – but more people have stopped looking for work.
The West Midlands saw 175,000 people out of work, up 9,000, 6.5 per cent. The East Midlands equivalent was 126,000, up 3,000, 5.6 per cent.
Nationally, the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance fell in February by 3,800 to 922,200 – 2.9 per cent – the fifth consecutive monthly reduction.
Seasonally adjusted West Midlands unemployment was 109,900, up 200, 4.0 per cent. The unadjusted equivalent was 113,600, up 800, 4.1 per cent.
Overall, the number of people classed as economically inactive, including long-term sick, students and those who have given up looking for a job, increased by 42,000 in the latest quarter to 7.88 million, over a fifth of the working age population.
The figure is the highest for almost a year.
The number of manufacturing jobs fell by 59,000 in the three months to January compared to a year earlier to 2.97 million, the lowest since comparable records began in 1978. The number of people in work continues at near-record levels, up by 18,000 in the latest quarter to just over 29 million.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of people employed in the public sector fell by 22,000 in the latest three months to 5.83 million, while private sector employment increased by 39,000 to 23.19 million. There were 622,800 job vacancies in the UK in the three months to February, up 24,800 from the previous quarter.
The number of working days lost through industrial disputes was 120,000 in January, the highest figure since last March, taking the total in the year to January to almost 800,000, three times as many as the previous 12 months.
Employment Minister Jim Murphy said: "This is a strong set of figures. The numbers on each of the main benefits – jobseeker’s allowance, incapacity benefits and lone parent benefits - are down over the year, the number of people in jobs continues to rise and the number of vacancies remains very high.
"The figures show that we are delivering on our commitment to provide employment opportunities for all - more people are coming off benefits and there are more job vacancies available."
Birmingham may be bucking the trend when it comes to the number of manufacturing jobs, according to research by the city's Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Preliminary results from the next BCI Quarterly Economic Survey indicate the city's manufacturers are showing no signs of cutting their workforce.
Policy adviser Kasia Kurowska said: "The results we have received so far indicate that over half of Birmingham manufacturers have kept their workforce constant over the past three months and one in four have increased their numbers.
"Looking ahead over the next three months, over 60 per cent say they intend to keep the same level of staff and a quarter say they intend to recruit more.
"The figure of less than three million manufacturing jobs is symbolic but it is also indicative of the general downturn in the sector nationwide. There is no question that manufacturing is decreasing but other sectors are on the up to compensate for it, which is why the overall unemployment figure went down again last month."
She added: "The fact that the West Midlands unemployment rate increased in the three months from November to January is a concern, but our research has shown all businesses are looking to recruit and this is backed up by the Government's own figures showing an increase in the number of available vacancies."
Employment group Manpower claimed employers in the West Midlands are upbeat in terms of their hiring intentions for April-June.
The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, a quarterly study of hiring trends based on a poll of more than 1,800 people, found that a balance of +18 per cent of businesses in the West Midlands expected to grow their headcount during the second quarter of the year. The figure represents a sizable increase of 14 per cent compared to last quarter and an eight per cent rise compared to the same quarter in 2006.
Greg Hollis, Manpower's operations manager for the West Midlands, said: "The figures are extremely encouraging and are an accurate portrayal of the local job market as we are experiencing it."
"Confidence amongst employers in the region has markedly improved from the start of the year. Many employers throughout the region, particularly in the public sector, report intentions to expand their workforces in the next three months.
"The city redevelopments and large scale investments within Birmingham and Coventry in particular, are undoubtedly instilling confidence amongst the local labour market."