The North-East still has one of the highest levels of unemployment, official figures revealed today.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that, during the three months to September, the jobless count dropped by 3,000 to 80,000, or 6.6 per cent of the region's population.

This is the highest unemployment rate outside London.

The North-East Chamber of Commerce said that while the figure hasn't come as a shock, concern is mounting over the number of people actually finding work.

NECC policy director Andrew Sugden said that despite growth in employment in the first half of the year, the past four months have seen levels flatten.

"It is a historical thing that we have one of the highest levels of unemployment, people have stopped getting panicked by that trend," he said. "What is ringing alarm bells is that employment levels have been hovering around the same mark for about four months. There was growth in the first half of the year, but it is beginning to flat line.

"We are getting to that core of people that are most difficult to find work for and there is no easy answer. We support the national Government and the regional development agency in their moves to address worklessness, but there is not going to be a quick fix."

Mr Sugden said that finding work for people with enthusiasm, motivation and skills is a lot easier than finding opportunities for those who have perhaps been out of work for a long time.

UK-wide yesterday's figures showed that the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefit has increased for the ninth month in a row.

The number of people in work reached a record high of 28.8 million in September after an increase of 123,000 in the latest three months.