Comment: Employment figures come as a welcome relief

Martin Flanagan
Martin Flanagan
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THE latest Scottish unemployment figures are hopefully a light at the end of the tunnel of what has been a debilitating five-year economic downturn.

With the number of people out of work falling 19,000 to 204,000 in the three months between August and October, it is the largest drop in Scottish unemployment for more than four years and is highly welcome.

Meanwhile, across the UK, we have seen the biggest fall in joblessness in more than a decade. Again, a good – if somewhat surprising – development given the austerity cuts and unconducive business backdrop.

Businesses are not investing, consumers are not spending – see yesterday’s dire Scottish retail figures – and exports to Britain’s main eurozone overseas market are under pressure.

Pundits are scratching their heads about why unemployment is not worse at this stage of our lean decade that the Chancellor tells us will now last until 2018. It could be that the Scottish economy is being shored up by part-time and temporary workers ahead of the Christmas period, but that is unlikely to be the only reason for the better figures.

I think another factor is probably that more employees have been kept on by the private sector in this extended downturn because of workers’ willingness to accept pay freezes and below-inflation salary increases.

Although it has meant many 
workers are worse off in one way, clearly there is a feeling out there that having a job in this uncertain climate is better than risking redundancy through dogged pursuit of better pay claims. Misery is relative, and it is also good news that unemployment among 16 to 24 year olds north of 
the Border dropped 4.3 per cent in the latest period to just over 21 per cent.

Still far too high, and an undoubted generational challenge for governments north and south of the Border – but young people in the likes of Greece and Spain are looking at unemployment rates of 40 per cent.

Barclays proves smart in netting Sants

Barclays has pulled off a coup with the appointment of ex-Financial Services Authority boss Hector Sants as its new head of compliance and government and regulatory relations.

Getting the ex-head of Britain’s financial regulator on board shows formerly error-prone Barclays is serious under its new management team in trying to draw a line under past regulatory peccadilloes.

As is well known, Sants has also been an investment banker, with both UBS and Swiss Banking Corporation, as well as a regulator so knows the 
regulatory wrinkles and gaps from both sides of the fence.

It should also encourage the other big British banks in their efforts to have a cleaner public face.