UNEMPLOYMENT in Scotland fell by 8,000 during the first three months of the year, newly released figures have revealed.
The drop to 208,000 between January and March means the Scottish unemployment rate stands at 7.7 per cent - the same as the UK average.
But the number in work fell by about 4,000 during the same period, taking the total of people in work to about 2.4 million.
A total of 137,600 people were claiming Jobseeker's Allowance last month, an increase of 200 over the month and the first increase since the beginning of the year.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed UK unemployment fell by 36,000 in the three months to the end of March, to 2.46 million.
The positive figures follow TUC research revealed on Monday which showed that more than 40 people were chasing every job vacancy in West Dunbartonshire, making it the UK's worst unemployment blackspot.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, speaking ahead of a seminar on youth unemployment in Irvine today, described Scotland's lower unemployment figure as "significant".
He said: "A significant drop in Scottish unemployment during the first quarter of 2011 is undoubtedly good news. The UK government knows it cannot be complacent on this issue and that is why we are putting our efforts into continuing to create the conditions for growth."
Finance secretary John Swinney claimed the figures showed the Scottish Government's job creation policies were making a real difference, after it emerged Scotland's 7.7 per cent unemployment rate was lower than England's figure of 7.8 per cent.
He said: "Unemployment in Scotland is continuing to come down - this is the sixth consecutive reported fall - with the Scottish rate of unemployment now lower than in England, the first time this has been the case for over a year.
"Our employment rate is higher than the UK as a whole, while we continue to have a lower rate of economic inactivity.
"These figures emphasise the importance of the measures we are taking to support the creation of new employment and training opportunities."
However, Mr Swinney admitted that "more needs to be done" after the ONS figures showed that Scotland's economic activity level fell by 12,000 during the three-month period and now stands at 2,690,000.
The figures sparked a mixed reaction from trades union and business leaders, with the head of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) talking about a "worrying trend" in long-term unemployment.
Grahame Smith, STUC general secretary, said: "Employment actually fell over the quarter, claimant count unemployment rose marginally and long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high. Too many workers are being forced into part-time and/or temporary employment."Andy Willox of the Federation of Small Businesses said: "On the day our First Minister is re-elected, we get some good news which underlines where his government's strategic priorities should lie: jobs, opportunities and sustainable economic growth."