UNEMPLOYMENT in the North-East has dropped to its lowest level for more than two years, as the number of people in work nationally hit record highs, new jobs figures show.

The number of jobless in the region in the three months to November dropped by 10,000 to 119,000, an unemployment rate of 9.1 per cent, according to the Office of National Statistics. In the last 12 months unemployment has dropped by 36,000.

Yorkshire and Humber also recorded positive figures, with a 12,000 drop in unemployment, down to 241,000 people, or 8.8 per cent of the population.

The fall in unemployment has been welcomed by business groups, who said the North-East labour market was continuing to close the gap on other regions after an improved performance in 2012.

Nationally, the number of people in work has reached its highest level since records began in 1971, with 30 million adults in a job, giving a 71 per cent employment rate.

The strong national picture is reflected in the North-East, where 68.2 per cent of adults are in employment – a rise of 9,000 over the quarter and 52,000 over the year.

Ross Smith, director of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is fantastic to start the year with such a positive set of labour market figures.

“The ongoing steep fall in unemployment and rise in employment must be welcomed, with both standing at their best rate in the region since August 2010.

“The improvement in the North East figures continues to outpace the UK as a whole, closing the gap between the two.”

However, the TUC general secretary Kevin Rowan said that while any drop in the number of jobseekers was welcome, the organisation is still to be convinced that the government “is on a real and lasting path to recovery”.

He added: “Let’s not forget that the bulk of this government’s spending cuts have still to take place. With more redundancies on the way from North East councils many working people will remain worried about their future for some time to come.”

Business organisation the CBI described the figures as “encouraging” and said it was good news that people were still able to find work despite the economic downturn.

The national statistics show that although long-term unemployment has fallen, the number of 16 to 24-year-olds searching for a job has increased by 1,000, the first rise since last summer.