The number of people claiming benefits in North Devon has risen – but new shop openings could bring job opportunities.

According to the latest employment figures, there were 635 claimants in North Devon in September, which is a rise of 22 per cent on last year.

Speaking on the latest claimant figures, Jo Harris, customer services manager at Barnstaple Jobcentre, said: “Savers and The Range have both announced plans to open stores in Barnstaple in the new year.

“The fit out for Frankie and Bennys and Chiquitos has begun at Anchorwood Bank, reflecting the continuing strength of retail/hospitality in the area.

“However there are also closures with the announced closures of Ann Summers, Appledore Shipyard, M&S Outlet and Atlantis Adventure Park.”

Ms Harris said the roll-out of Universal Credit was at a very early stage in North Devon, but could reflect the higher claimant count.

“Although figures have gone up slightly, actually people are getting work,” she said.

“Universal Credit is supporting that because people can take part time jobs and still get support; we see it as a positive move.”

Ms Harris said they have also been working with Appledore Shipyard after it was announced it will close next year.

She said: “Our Rapid Response team has been out to speak to the HR department, and one of Barnstaple’s Jobcentre managers has spoken to the local MP, so that everything that can possibly put into place has been in preparation.

“Meanwhile all Jobcentre staff are here to answer any questions from affected employees.”

She said at the moment it was too early to tell how many people were at risk of losing their jobs, but support would be put in place.