UNEMPLOYMENT in Scotland fell slightly between August and October, new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the unemployment rate among those aged 16 and over was 4.2% – 0.6% down on the previous quarter.

The employment rate for those aged 16 to 64 was 74.8%, a 1.4% increase on the previous quarter.

The ONS said the rise was partly caused by the record increase in the employment level, of 57,000.

There were 2.67 million people aged 16 and over in employment, while 118,000 in that age range were unemployed.

Business Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “For August to October 2020, Scotland’s employment rate estimate has risen over the quarter to 74.8% and the unemployment rate estimate has fallen over the quarter to 4.2%.

“These figures still do not reflect the full impact of coronavirus on employment as the Job Retention Scheme has played an important role in supporting employers and employees.

“We are also facing huge economic uncertainty as a result of Brexit and the UK Government’s decision to leave the transition period on December 31 in the middle of a pandemic and a recession.

“However, the Scottish Government continues to support employers – and to help protect jobs – by making grants available to businesses impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “We’ve been clear throughout this crisis that protecting lives and livelihoods is our number one priority.

“We’ve provided over £280 billion of support, including protecting over nine million jobs with the furlough scheme and supporting millions of businesses to keep going with our loans, grants and tax cuts.

“But we know that, sadly, many people are already facing unemployment.

“That’s why our Plan for Jobs is also helping to create new jobs, including through our £2 billion Kickstart scheme and expanded apprenticeships and traineeships, to ensure nobody is left without hope or opportunity.”

The UK unemployment rate for those aged 16 and over increased to 4.9%, up 0.7% on the previous quarter, while the employment rate for those aged 16-64 fell by 0.5% to 75.2%.

Dr Stuart McIntyre, head of research at the Fraser of Allander Institute, said: “While these numbers might suggest that Scotland is doing better in handling the economic crisis that elsewhere in the UK, it is far too early to draw any such conclusion.

“While this one set of data suggest recent performance has been slightly better, the reality is that with furlough support continuing to support over 180,000 jobs in Scotland it is simply too soon to conclude anything about how the pandemic is reshaping the Scottish labour market.

“Let alone whether we’ve been more or less affected than elsewhere in the UK.

“It is also important to note, too, that despite a fall in headline measure of unemployment, the claimant count continued to rise slightly in the latest data, with the number of people claiming unemployment-related benefits up well over 80% since this time last year, with over 214,000 people currently in this situation in Scotland.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “Despite the slight decrease in today’s figures, these reflect a period when restrictions were eased. We are now facing new restrictions across the UK.

“The UK Government continues to respond, taking unprecedented action to support jobs with the extension of the furlough and self-employed schemes, providing loans to Scottish businesses and supporting our hospitality and tourism sectors.

“In the spending review last month, the Chancellor set out how we will work to ensure our economy recovers. That includes support for growth deals in Scotland and investment in our defence and research and development sectors, money to help communities prepare for a new shared prosperity fund and an increase in the national living wage.

“Hope is on the horizon, with the UK Government procuring vaccines on behalf of the whole of the UK. Never has the strength of the union and UK Treasury been more important.”