Number of local Job Seeker Allowance claimants is lowest since records began.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits in North Devon and Torridge has fallen to the lowest level since records began.

New retail jobs in Barnstaple – as well as the annual demand for seasonal workers – have played a part in the 30-year all-time low, being seen as an encouraging marker of the area’s economy.

Figures released yesterday (Wednesday) show claimants across the two districts fell by 25 per cent in the first half of 2015 – and 37 per cent since this time last year.

North Devon saw the largest reduction of Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants across Devon.

Between February and May this year, 370 people claimed JSA – 0.7 per cent of the district’s working age population.

In Torridge, there were 504 claimants – Devon’s highest proportion of claimants at 1.3 per cent but still significantly below the national average of 1.9 per cent.

Statistics since 1983 show the number of claimants in both districts peaked in February 1993, with 5,322 claimants in North Devon and 3,023 in Torridge.

At the time, some 10 per cent of North Devon’s working age population claimed unemployment benefits, while in Torridge the figure was 9.2 per cent.

Retail movement

Sue Kessell of Jobcentre Plus said ‘retail movement’ in the area had helped create a more buoyant labour market.

“In Barnstaple, the new Poundland has created 30 jobs and the new TK Maxx due to open in August will create 40 jobs,” she said.

She said Jobcentre Plus was working closely with McDonald’s in Bideford, where around 80 jobs are expected to be created when the new restaurant opens in September.

“We will be holding a sector based work academy to meet the requirements of the new build,” she said.

More good news

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones MP said the figures represented more good news for North Devon.

“This gives real cause for optimism, with the economy improving and more households having the security of an income,” he said.

“There is more to do, but today’s figures are extremely welcome.”

The record figures were reflected across the county with the exception of West Devon.

County-wide, there are 30 per cent fewer claimants than the same time in May 2104, and 60 per cent fewer than in May 2011.

More work to do

Devon County Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Cabinet Member for Economy and Growth, said: “The fall in JSA claimants we have witnessed over the last year, both in terms of overall and youth unemployment, are an extremely encouraging sign for Devon and the health of its economy.

“Both youth and longer-term unemployment, however, remain a challenge and as a council we continue to back schemes which aim to reduce unemployment, boost wages and diversify the Devon economy.

“We are currently working to ensure new European funding programmes tackle both harder to reach groups who need the confidence and inspiration to enter the labour market and develop a career progression path to help their earning potential, and that employment and skills programmes support businesses in their aspiration to grow through a skilled workforce.”