A drastic fall in the number of people out of work and a surge in employment will hopefully signal the start of an upward trajectory for the region, business leaders said today.

The West Midlands unemployment rate fell by 0.5 per cent to 5 per cent between December and February – the largest decrease of any UK region.

During the same period, the employment rate increased by 0.5 per cent.

Nationally, unemployment fell by 0.1 per cent to 4.2 per cent, with employment rising from 0.1 per cent to 75.4 per cent.

New figures also revealed wage growth is up to 2.8 per cent, outstripping inflation for the first time in a year to ease the burden on households.

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce chief executive Paul Faulkner (pictured) said: “The regional labour market statistics this month are highly encouraging.

“We are proud to see that the West Midlands has had the largest decrease in unemployment rate estimates of any region between December and February, and we hope that the rise in our employment rate is the start of an upward trajectory.

“We are also pleased to see the national rise in nominal average weekly earnings surpassing February’s inflation figures, which will ease costs for those in employment.

“However, locally, employment rates trail behind the national figures, and there is still work to be done to ensure that employers have access to the skilled talent that they need, and that they are able to offer quality jobs that will drive increases in productivity and economic performance.

“Skills shortages in our region continue to affect employers’ ability to source the right people for key roles.”

Mr Faulkner said clarity from the government over funding for apprenticeships is vital to the region’s long-term prospects.

He added: “From the end of this month, apprenticeship-levy paying employers who are not using all of their levy funds themselves will be able to transfer 10 per cent of the funds to another organisation, and the Chamber hopes that this will boost apprenticeships and long-term, employment in the region.

“However, we are increasingly concerned by the caveats surrounding this and call on the government to address the growing complexity of apprenticeship funding.”