EMPLOYMENT in Hampshire hit a record high last year, with almost a million residents in work.

This was up 25,600 people on 2016, and was the largest employment rate for shire counties across the country – 905,600 (79.8 per cent of the population).

The amount in work was also higher than the national average, which recorded 74.7 per cent.

Unemployment also reached new lows in the county, with only 26,900 (2.8 per cent) out of work.

This was down 12,400 residents on the previous year.

Nationally, 4.1 per cent of the population are out of work.

It was also found that 2,780 new businesses set up shop in the county, pushing the total to 85,770.

Although the figure went up, it was noted that the increase of 3.3 per cent lagged behind the UK average of four per cent.

This helped push the Hampshire economy to £49.7 billion, with a £830 million (1.7 per cent) growth. However, this was also behind the UK average of 3.7 per cent.

The authority’s economic head, Councillor Mel Kendal said: “One of our main priorities as a county council is to support and develop a prosperous economy in Hampshire, so it remains a great place to live and work.

“Supporting the creation of good jobs for local people is key, and we want to ensure we take every opportunity to encourage businesses to invest here – a skilled and active workforce available is an important consideration for potential employers.

“Having the highest employment rate of any shire county is of course very good news, but we are not complacent, and recognise that we must continue to work hard to support meaningful job creation for all.

“Our focus includes supporting schools to ensure we have skilled and qualified young people entering the job market, working with colleges and universities to promote higher level training and qualifications where appropriate, and increasingly supporting the development of apprenticeship opportunities, not only for the younger generation, but to ensure there are opportunities for lifelong learning and skills development.”

The biggest growth for the county came from the aerospace and defence business sector. In 2017, 115 new firms set up in Hampshire, up 2.6 per cent.

This pushed the sector amount to 4,470 businesses.

The sector also employed an additional 2,000 staff (5.1 per cent growth) to increase the total to 43,000.

The county’s two other major sectors, marine and maritime, and tourism, both saw a dip in its work force, both losing 1,000 staff each. In total, both employed a combined 112,000 workers.

Nevertheless, 110 new marine firms set up in the county (3,375 in total), with an additional 40 being created in the tourism sector (5,985).

Ross McNally, executive chair of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said: "It is a good performance. The record employment levels together with the low rate of unemployment shows a very vibrant economy across Hampshire, with business growth in key sectors. 

"Businesses do report recruitment constraints and in these circumstances we need to see investment in skills, and an ongoing drive for improved productivity."