WEST Lothian has been identified as the area in Scotland expected to be hit hardest with job cuts over the next three years by the pandemic.

A new analysis by the Social Market Foundation think tank has identified the region as the area of Scotland facing the worst economic shock from job losses and amongst those likely to find it hardest to recover economically.

The think tank says that nearly three in four jobs (71%) in the area which covers Linlithgow, Livingston and Bathgate are at moderate and severe risk. It is the only Scottish region in the top third of over 150 areas across Britain with the worst expected job losses.

Parts of Ayrshire have also been highlighted as amongst the hardest in Scotland to recover from the pandemic - because of already high unemployment levels.

HeraldScotland:

East Ayrshire and the North Ayrshire mainland had a 5.3% unemployment rate, the highest in the country before the pandemic struck. It is predicted that 61% of the area's jobs are at moderate or severe risk.

The SMF analysis also states that out of 12 British regions, Scotland was predicted to be the least impacted area with Wales. That still means around 63% of jobs being at moderate or severe risk.

A league table of over 150 areas across GB places three Scottish regions amongst the five that are expected to be the least at risk from job losses - South Ayrshire (57%), Na h-Eileanan Siar (58%) and Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire (58%).

Sectors such as finance and construction will be worst affected by the pandemic, the report warned.

The think-tank’s analysis shows that the places facing the worst economic shock from the pandemic are mostly in the more affluent areas of London and the south-east of England.

The report's researchers told the Herald: "Seventy one percent of jobs in West Lothian are in sectors likely to experience a moderate or severe impact over the medium term due to coronavirus.

"A quarter of jobs are in the broad industries of construction and finance, banking and insurance. There are also a high proportion of jobs in the broad industry categories of manufacturing and distribution, hotels & restaurants which make up a significant proportion of the jobs within the moderately impacted sectors."

West Lothian Council said it "does not recognise" the figures quoted in the SMF analysis and pointed to KPMG’s June 2020 UK Economic Outlook report, which forecasts West Lothian to be the least affected local authority area in the whole of Scotland."

Leader of West Lothian Council Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: “We believe that the West Lothian economy is well-placed to meet the challenges posed by the impact of both Brexit and coronavirus.

“Whilst we respect their professional opinion, we do not recognise the figures produced by the Social Market Foundation, and believe they significantly overestimate both the number of jobs in manufacturing, banking and insurance in West Lothian and the potential scale of any job losses."

Forecasts predict unemployment to more than double from 3.8% in 2019 to 7.9% in 2020.

HeraldScotland:

This represents an increase in unemployment of nearly 1.5 million workers, since 7.9% unemployment is equivalent to nearly 2.9 million people out of work.

By way of historic comparison, UK unemployment peaked at 8.1% in 2011 following the 2008/09 recession and then took seven years to recover to 4.1% in 2018.

The briefing from SMF identifies the places at greatest risk of economic disruption over the next three years – and the areas that will find it hardest to recover.

Many are in the regions that the Government has promised to support, leading the think-tank to warn that the downturn will “level down” the economy in some places.

The places that face a severe economic shock and then a slow recovery are mostly away from London and include some of the “Red Wall” constituencies that changed hands at the general election.

The city of Hull is the local area that faces the worst economic impact and the slowest recovery, according to the SMF, a cross-party think-tank.

The SMF report said: “The places that face the greatest impact from the downturn are largely in the more affluent South East and London. However, an area's recovery from disruption will depend on local resilience and pre-crisis levels of economic output and employment.”

It added: "Our view is that the UK economy will take on a sluggish U-shaped recovery. The possibility of a returning surge of coronavirus, enforced social-distancing measures and a withdrawal of the government's fiscal response will likely exacerbate common recession-induced behaviour changes, such as reduced consumer confidence and spending."

Responding to the report Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “While we know that the virus can strike anywhere, these figures suggest that some areas are more economically vulnerable than others.

“The Scottish Government must make sure that every corner of Scotland has the support it needs to survive and thrive. No one must be left behind.”

The Treasury said it was committed to "levelling up" every region of the UK.

A Treasury spokeswoman said: "As we recover from the outbreak we remain committed to levelling up every region and nation of the UK - helping ensure they return to growth, jobs and prosperity in a way that is safe.

"Alongside our generous package of economic support that has protected millions of jobs and businesses, we're supporting communities up and down the country. At Spring Budget 2020, we allocated more than £6bn for local transport in towns and cities across England, £5bn to support the rollout of the fastest broadband, and committed to a £2.5bn skills fund to help our communities thrive."