Town centre has a bright future says chamber boss

THE proportion of unemployed people claiming benefits in North Somerset has almost trebled inside three years according to statistics released this week.

And it appears youngsters have been worst affected by the economic problems, with nearly six per cent of those aged 18-24 having to claim benefits.

The announcement comes as little surprise after the Office for National Statistics revealed 16,000 more people over the age of 16 were unemployed in the South West than this time last year.

Despite the gloomy outlook, North Somerset still has one of the lowest benefit claim rates in the UK, about two-thirds the national average.

Nationally, the unemployment figure has increased to 8.4 per cent, compared with 6.5 per cent in the South West.

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Gail Parsons, president of Weston’s Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said despite the closure of Clarks and Priceless shoe shops and concerns over the future of Peacocks and Bonmarch�, the town still has a shopping future.

She said: “The shops which are closing are all part of national companies and is no reflection on spending in Weston.

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“But, unfortunately, when staff are made redundant from these shops when they do close it will push the number of claimants up for Jobseeker’s Allowance. As a plus, the future of Weston has great potential which will create new job opportunities and training packages to assist jobseekers into work.”

She said smaller business opportunities such as the Aspire scheme at Weston College and 70 more jobs at the Citizens Advice Bureau’s call centre would all help the town progress towards a better future.

She said: “There is not a business in our area that hasn’t been affected by the recession, we are all working very hard to keep afloat. However, with all the planned developments and inward investment, many businesses will be able to see a future.”

A spokesman for Unison said the problems in Weston town centre were in part caused by the unemployment rise, and she fears more job cuts will only make the issue worse.

She said: “Public sector job losses and pay cuts also have knock-on effects in the private sector, as public sector workers no longer have income to spend in the local economy, and businesses suffer as a result.

“All you have to do is walk around Weston town centre to see the amount of shops which are now lying empty.”

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