NEW figures showing the highest number of Scots in work for more than four years have been hailed as a sign the country's economy is recovering.

Official statistics for the period between April and June showed a total of 2,531,000 people in employment, a rise of 13,000 over the quarter and 31,000 higher than for the same period last year.

That is the highest total since the start of 2009, according to the Scottish Government.

At the same time as employment rose, the jobless total fell.

Over the three months from April to June, unemployment, which includes those who are out of work and not eligible for benefits, fell by 1000 to stand at 198,000.

The jobless total is now 17,000 less than the same time last year.

The number of Scots out of work and claiming jobseeker's allowance also dropped by 2900 from June to 129,300 last month, the lowest total since June 2009.

Scotland continues to have a higher employment rate and a lower unemployment rate than the UK as a whole.

The employment rate north of the Border is 72.1%, compared to 71.5% for the UK. Across the UK as a whole, 7.8% of people are out of work, while the proportion in Scotland is 7.2%

The number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are out of work has also continued to fall, with the Scottish youth unemployment rate now standing at 19.1%.

Finance Secretary John ­Swinney said: "I welcome these figures that demonstrate further progress on Scotland's economy."

Mr Swinney said the "relentless focus of the Scottish Government on boosting employment and the economy was delivering progress".

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said: "We are seeing some positive signs in our economy's recovery but it is important we keep focusing on creating the best conditions for growth and jobs."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it "shows Scotland is sharing in the growth of a million private sector jobs which Liberal Democrats in the Coalition have helped businesses to create since 2010".

However, Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown said: "The figures are mainly moving in the right direction but the pace of progress remains too slow. There's a long way to go and it's critical everyone retains their focus to ensure both the unemployment and employment figures continue on the right path."

Labour finance spokesman Iain Gray insisted the jobs market was "still very tough".

He said: "We know many of the new jobs created are temporary, part-time or on zero-hours contracts and people in jobs want to work more.

Grahame Smith, general ­secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), said "unemployment in Scotland was stagnating at a high level". He argued the jobless total had hardly moved since autumn last year.

He added: "Workers experiencing rapidly-declining real wages and rising insecurity of employment don't feel as if they're benefitting from an improving economy and labour market."

However, the figures were welcomed by business leaders.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: "It is extremely welcome news Scotland's unemployment rate has resumed its downward trend.

"Coupled with the fact the number of those in work has risen considerably, this paints a picture of solid progress in the Scottish labour market and is evidence of the confidence that is re-emerging among Scotland's businesses is being translated into new jobs."

Andy Willox, the Federation of Small Businesses' Scottish policy convenor, said: "We aren't seeing uniform jobs growth across the country."