COUNCIL chiefs in Sedgemoor have hit back at claims youth unemployment is on the rise.

Somerset County Council and NHS Somerset's Joint Strategic Needs Assessment - an annual snapshot highlighting trends in the county concerning health and social care, housing, transport, crime, employment, education and other issues - said Sedgemoor had the sharpest increase in youth unemployment, with one in 12 people aged 18-24 out of work.

However, Sedgemoor District Council told the Mercury the figures were three years old and “things have changed significantly since that time.”

The youth unemployment figure for Sedgemoor quoted in the report was 8.5%, but the district council said that came from March 2010.

The most recent youth unemployment figure, for December 2012, was just 6.3%.

A council spokesman said: “That's now below the national average and moving towards the rest of the county.

“Similarly, unemployment in the district has actually fallen by 0.3% since early 2011, whilst it has stayed static in both the county and nationally.

“Clearly, it's important to recognise that challenges still remain, but we have made significant progress within Sedgemoor over the past 18 months.”

The council's economic development manager, Phill Adams, said: “Youth unemployment does fluctuate but my concern was that this report seemed to suggest that in Sedgemoor it was rocketing, when it's actually going in the right direction.

“There are 200 more young people in employment than when these stats came out.”

Other findings in the JSNA included that hospital admissions for alcohol-related diseases increased over the past year, while screening rates for breast cancer (for women aged 53-64), cervical and bowel cancer were generally higher across Somerset.

The report also said primary schools in Somerset were becoming stretched due to the growing population.

Somerset's new acting director of public health Trudi Grant said: “We will use the JSNA to inform decisions at this very important time when the local authority is taking new responsibilities for health and wellbeing from April.”