THE number of people out of work in Scotland fell by 14,000 over the first three months of the year, with the number of people in work increasing by 5000 over the same period.

Figures showed that unemployment for the period January to March 2017, including those out of work and not eligible for benefits, dropped to 120,000. That total was 48,000 lower than a year ago.

While the UK unemployment rate reached a 42-year low of 4.6 per cent, in Scotland the jobless rate was even lower at 4.4 per cent.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, also revealed that over the first three months of this year the number of Scots in work grew to 2,620,000 – up 41,000 from the first quarter of 2016.

In Scotland, 74 per cent of the workforce are in employment – slightly lower than the figure of 74.8 per cent recorded across the UK as a whole The number of Scots who were out of work and claiming jobseeker’s allowance increased by 200 in April to stand at 48,200 – 9,400 lower than the same month in 2016.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said: “These statistics show that Scotland’s labour market continues to perform well in the face of significant economic challenges.

“Unemployment is down, employment is up and Scotland’s youth unemployment rate is the fourth lowest in the EU. This is welcome news.

“We will work to support employment and our priority remains developing the correct conditions for economic growth, including through taking forward our multi-billion-pound infrastructure plan and the Scottish Growth Scheme. We will also continue to tackle issues around inactivity in the labour market.

“Many of these people are unavailable for work as they are students, looking after family or retired.

“Having a long-term illness or disability is the most common reason for those aged 16 to 64 falling into this category and our newly-devolved employability services will guarantee a fairer approach to getting people into work and supporting those with health conditions and disabilities.”

SNP Airdrie and Shotts candidate Neil Gray said the figures were “highly encouraging” and “show the SNP’s focus on jobs is paying off”.