The latest output and labour market statistics published yesterday provide, as always, material to support very different narratives. The positive story focuses on Scotland’s performance relative to the UK: our unemployment rate is lower and recession less deep.
But if you’re one of the 12 jobseekers chasing every vacancy in North Ayrshire, the debate over small differences in output between different parts of the UK must appear offensively obscure.
As the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC)has consistently argued, the headline statistics do not tell the full story of what is happening in the labour market. Published only at the start of this month, the Scottish Government’s Local Area Labour Markets report confirms that, at the end of 2011, around 204,000 people in Scotland were looking for extra hours in their job.
This represents an increase of 14,000 on the year and 54,000 on 2008. Another 35,000 people were looking for an additional job or a new job with longer hours. We already know from Office for National Statistics data that 50,000 people are in temporary jobs because they can’t find permanent positions. Add to this the fact that the claimant count rose again along with most measures of long-term unemployment and you can see why the STUC does see much cause for celebration.
Progress on youth unemployment is painfully slow and it remains to be seen whether the welcome reversal in women’s unemployment can be maintained given on-going public-sector job losses.
So is the UK coalition’s new infrastructure investment plan an adequate response to current challenges? We’ll, it’s a start and at least acknowledgement that, left to its own devices, the private sector will not invest.
But questions remain over timing, projects to be funded and the method of funding. Imagine Chancellor George Osborne’s reaction if the previous government had announced an off-balance sheet package of £50 billion.
It is also unclear what impact this package will have in Scotland. The coalition may have eventually woken up to the severity of the situation but its response is massively insufficient and much too late.
• Stephen Boyd is assistant secretary of the STUC.