Business leaders in Birmingham and Solihull believe the latest dismal job figures are a symptom of the current economic status and will not improve until demand picks up in the global economy.

Kiran Virk, policy adviser at Birmingham and Solihull Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCI) said: “Today’s figures are a mixed bag of good and not so good news and demonstrate a still fragile economy. Until the government introduces initiatives to help businesses, such as scrapping the rise in employer National Insurance contributions, companies will not recruit.

“The private sector plays a huge role in creating wealth and in order to continue this path, the government needs to encourage businesses to invest more time into nurturing the young people who will be tomorrow’s workforce.”

According to the latest figures, the West Midlands has 252,000 people out of work, a fall by 16,000 from the previous quarter but still 9.4 per cent of the potential workforce - the highest of any region in the UK.

Nationally the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance soared by 23,500 last month to reach the highest level since Labour came to power in 1997.

The claimant count increased to 1.64 million in January, the worst figure since April 1997.

Long-term unemployment, covering those out of work for more than a year, increased by 37,000 in the quarter to December to 663,000, also the highest figure since 1997.

The number of people classed as economically inactive reached a record high of 8.08 million, more than 21 per cent of the working age population.

The figure covers students, people looking after a sick relative, or those who have given up looking for work, with records dating back to 1971.

Unemployment in the latest quarter fell by 3,000 to 2.46 million, giving a jobless rate of 7.8 per cent, unchanged from the previous three months.

Other data from the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of people in employment fell by 12,000 to just under 29 million.

There was a drop of 37,000 in full-time employment, offset by a 25,000 increase in part-time employment.

*On Monday February 22, BCI and Business Voice West Midlands will be launching a regional response to the government’s ‘Backing Young Britain’ initiative. The campaign calls for employers to support the numerous ways in which they can help young people gain employment or experience of work through apprenticeships, work placements or internships.