North East Fife election candidates claim credit for falling unemployment

Huw Bell, pictured at a recent hustings event in St Andrews, claims the Conservative government's prudent handling of the economy is responsible for the drop in unemployment in Fife.
Huw Bell, pictured at a recent hustings event in St Andrews, claims the Conservative government's prudent handling of the economy is responsible for the drop in unemployment in Fife.

The number of people out of work in Fife is falling – and election candidates in north east Fife are claiming it’s down to their party’s policies.

Liberal Democrat Tim Brett and Conservative Huw Bell both insisted the reduction in unemployment was down to their party’s careful handling of the economy.

But that has brought stinging responses from Labour and the SNP, who slated the UK Government’s “damaging” austerity programme.

The number of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants in Fife fell in March 2015, according to the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions.

There were 6327 claimants in March 2015, which accounts for 2.7 per cent working age population.

Councillor Lesley Laird, Fife Council’s depute leader, said: “We’ve seen a small reduction of 139 claimants between February and March, indicating the Fife labour market is picking up once again.

“Comparing these figures to March 2014, this shows a reduction of more than 2000 claimants.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Tim Brett claimed record employment figures were thanks to his party’s efforts.

He said the number of people in north east Fife receiving JSA had been “slashed” by 24 per cent in the past year, and this was a clear indication the Liberal Democrat plans for economic recovery were working.

Mr Brett said: “The Liberal Democrats are helping the people of North East Fife back to work. A drop of 224 receiving JSA, from 929 to 705, over the past year is an excellent achievement for north east Fife.”

However, North East Fife’s Conservative candidate Huw Bell said the creation of new jobs was due to the actions of the Tory-led UK Government. He said the number of people relying on JSA in north east Fife had fallen by 40 per cent since his party came to power in 2010.

Mr Bell said: “Judged over five years, there is no question the additional number of jobs created in Scotland is a huge success. I was delighted to help 100 locals find work here in north east Fife with my jobs fair earlier this year, in partnership with SRUC Elmwood Campus.

“We want to continue towards full employment and I will promise to hold a jobs fair annually if I am elected.”

However, SNP candidate Stephen Gethins blasted back, saying the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition’s policies had had a devastating impact on families in Fife and across Scotland – and they had not even met their own economic targets.

He added: “What is needed is an end to damaging austerity that is affecting our most vulnerable and putting a sustainable recovery in jeopardy.

“We need to see more powers returned to Scotland so that the Scottish Government can continue to pursue policies that help families and businesses across north east Fife.”

Labour’s Brian Thomson was equally scathing, pointing to research by the Trades Union Congress which found more than a third (34.4 per cent) of employees in north east Fife earn less than the living wage – the highest percentage in the whole of Scotland.

He said: “The number of people in employment in Fife has risen, and Fife Council’s Labour-controlled administration has played a significant part in that through its £5m investment in its Fife Youth Job Contract, which gives young people aged between 16-24 a chance to work towards a Modern Apprenticeship, or find their way to the right career.

“However, questions need to be asked about the kind of jobs that some people are working in. It is often assumed that North East Fife is an affluent area but the TUC figures show that a low wage economy is operating in the area.

“It is a damning indictment on the policies pursued by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition. It is terrible that so many people living in North East Fife are living in poverty, or dependent on in-work benefits.”