SCOTLAND’S employment rate has improved with the easing of lockdown restrictions, according to the latest official figures.

The  Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported the proportion of people aged 16 to 64 in work rose 0.2 percentage points to 74.1 per cent between May and July.

The unemployment rate also fell slightly, by 0.1 points to 4.3%, in the second quarter.

The UK employment rate was higher over the same period, up 0.5 points on the previous three months to 75.2%, but its unemployment rate was also higher, at 4.6%.

There were 2.53 million working age adults in employment in Scotland, while 117,000 people in the 16 to 64 age range were unemployed.

The UK Government said the figures showed “encouraging signs” of economic recovery.

However the Scottish Government, which has said independence is needed to shape the recovery, was more cautious, pointing out payroll numbers were still depressed.

SNP employment minister Richard Lochhead said: “Separate HMRC early estimates, also published this morning, show 9,000 more payrolled employees in August than July 2021.

“However this is 25,000 fewer payrolled employees compared with February 2020, which reflects our gradual ongoing economic recovery from the pandemic.

“The Scottish Government will continue to do all we can to support employees and employers and we are carefully monitoring any impact on employment as the Job Retention Scheme unwinds at the end of this month. 

“The furlough scheme has provided essential support to businesses and workers throughout the pandemic and is still needed as we move through recovery. 

“We have repeatedly called on the UK Government to ensure furlough remains in place for as long as it is required but if it is removed, the UK Government must clarify as soon as possible what further assistance will be in place to support those most deeply impacted by the pandemic.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “Today’s labour market figures have encouraging signs and, as we recover from the pandemic, we will continue to do all we can to get people back into work, support businesses and see the economy flourish again.

“Throughout the crisis the furlough scheme alone supported over 900,000 Scottish jobs and by the end of July this year, that figure was down to 116,000. 

“People are getting back to work and our Plan For Jobs is aiding that process, while our Kickstart initiative is creating opportunities for young people.

“The unprecedented success of the UK Government-funded vaccine rollout is allowing us to move forward from restrictive lockdown measures.”

In a coded dig at the SNP’s desire for Indyref2 by the end of 2023, he added: “The UK Government remains focused on recovery from the pandemic.”