BUSINESS leaders have welcomed “strong” figures showing a continued fall in unemployment in the North-East and a rise in those in work.

An 8,000 fall in unemployment in the North-East between November and January was the largest in the UK and the second successive quarterly decrease in the region. The total – 125,000 – was also down 2,000 over the year and the lowest since October 2012.

However, the unemployment rate – 9.5 per cent – remained the highest of any region. Meanwhile, the number of people in work rose by 14,000 over the quarter to 1.192m, a third successive quarterly increase and was up by 25,000 over the year.

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Stockton South Tory MP James Wharton said unemployment was continuing to fall in his own constituency and there were 1.3m more people in work under the Conservatives than under Labour.

However, North Durham Labour MP Kevan Jones said on Twitter that four out of five new jobs created since 2010 were low paid.

He said Prime Minister David Cameron “seemed to have forgotten about the North-East” in his efforts to rebalance the economy.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The economy is generating jobs, but too many are insecure and poorly paid.”

Mark Stephenson, the North East Chamber of Commerce’s policy and research manager, said the North-East had improved on all labour market measures and there was a continuing upward trend in employment in particular.

He added: “The North-East unemployment rate is still the highest in the country, which has to be a focus for policy makers.

“But with the total at its lowest since mid-2012 these figures must overall be welcomed and illustrate the growing sense of optimism we are seeing among our members.”

Ted Salmon, the North-East regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was also delighted with the “strong improvement” in employment figures.

He said: “Our members across the region tell us that they’re feeling more optimistic and confident about the future with many seeking to take on more staff in the next quarter.

“The 135,000 small businesses we have in the North-East play a vital role in job creation. Nearly 90 per cent of those returning to work do so in a small business and we need to see more being done to help more small businesses taking on staff.”

Employment Minister Esther McVey pointed out that the number of women now in work in the North-East was at a “record high” of 566,000.

She said: “This shows that the growing economy is helping people to find a job, turn their lives around and have the security of a regular wage.”

In Yorkshire and Humberside there was an increase of 2,000 in the total number of unemployed – 241,000 – an unemployment rate of 8.7 per cent. The number of people in work increased by 4,000 quarter-on-quarter to 2.537m.