Vacancies fell in April but are up 22 per cent since last year

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The chances of the private sector riding to the rescue of all those likely to lose jobs in the public sector this year look finely balanced, with a leading recruitment consultancy warning today that the number of job opportunities in Britain actually fell, according to April data.

Reed said that across the private and public sectors, job vacancies fell by 2 per cent in the past month, though it added that there were still 22 per cent more opportunities available than in the same month of last year.

All the growth has come from the private sector, which will relieve public-sector employees in danger of losing their jobs as the Government's austerity cuts begin to bite.

But the picture varies from sector to sector. In the banking industry, leisure and tourism, job vacancies are down. By contrast, job vacancies are continuing to rise in engineering, customer services, estate agency, human resources, information technology and telecoms.

Martin Warnes, the recruitment company's managing director, said April's figures might not be a good indicator of the trend for the months ahead because of the Easter holidays, but warned that nervousness remained about the sustainability of employment increases.

"The Reed Job Index remains over 20 per cent higher than last year's level following the steep increase in the first quarter of the year, as reflected in the falling unemployment and rising GDP figures for the same period," Mr Warnes said. "Clearly business growth has been sustained at a higher level than the last quarter of 2010, but continued recovery remains difficult to predict."

The most recent figures showed a small fall in the joblessness to 2.48 million, though youth unemployment remains a serious problem.

The April data covered the three months to the end of February, but the early indications are that unemployment may have begun to rise again in March.