Employer confidence over jobs highest in four years: Axeing of 330 at Moulinex takes shine off 30,300 fall in jobless rate

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EMPLOYERS are more optimistic about creating new jobs in the next three months than at any time for four years, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, write Robert Chote and Mary Fagan.

The BCC survey reflects the improvement in the labour market in yesterday's unemployment figures, which show the number of people without work and claiming benefit dropping by 30,300 in March to a 20-month low of 2,722,600.

Unemployment fell throughout the country, with the Department of Employment estimating that unemployment is declining at a trend rate of about 20,000 a month, slightly faster than last month's estimate. About 9.7 per cent of the workforce are unemployed.

The figures also showed a slight pick-up in manufacturing employment in February, with a net 3,000 new jobs created. But Moulinex, the French manufacturer of household electrical goods, announced that it is to close its Swan kettle factory in Birmingham with the loss of 330 jobs. Management blamed the closure on old-fashioned equipment and problems in updating the technology at the Moulinex Swan plant.

Moulinex has been hurt by recession and by fierce competition in the market place. The company is still struggling to recover from heavy debts incurred during its takeover of Krups in 1991.

The Employment department has revised its earlier estimates of employment to show that the fall in employment in the recession and the rise since early last year are both smaller than it first thought.

The revisions further reinforce the pattern during this recovery, in which employment growth has been dominated by part-time jobs and jobs for women. Since March last year male employment has dropped by 47,000 while female employment has risen by 151,000.

The number of vacancies notified to JobCentres fell by 1,300 to 139,800 last month, with fewer vacancies filled and fewer new positions notified. But the Employment department said that JobCentres appeared to be losing market share to employment agencies in the private sector.

The BCC survey showed rises in domestic output and export sales and orders in manufacturing and services.

Richard Brown, policy director, said: 'It is probably the most bullish report we have produced for four years.' However, the report also warned that it was too early to be complacent about the strength and durability of the recovery.

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