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Job vacancies fell last month at the steepest rate for more than 11 years as employers continued to freeze recruitment in the face of recession, according to an industry survey.

The poll, conducted by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and consultants KPMG, reported that more high-ranking jobs were at risk than in previous recessions. The expected exodus of migrant workers from eastern and central Europe, freeing jobs for British workers, also did not “appear to be happening”, the poll said.

“We struggled to find any glimmer of hope in these figures but failed,” said Mike Stevens, head of business services at KPMG. “The UK jobs market is continuing its downward spiral, with placements falling for the 11th month in succession and vacancies down across most sectors.”

The poll’s vacancy index, at 27.3, registered its weakest reading since the survey started in 1997. It was down on its previous record of 27.4 in January.

Six months ago KPMG had hoped employment demand would be maintained as foreign workers returned home and by the impact of early retirements – both a feature of previous recessions – Mr Stevens said.

This did not appear to be happening, however, perhaps because the employment situation was just as bleak elsewhere in Europe and because the impact of the credit crunch meant that people could not afford to retire early.

Kevin Green, REC chief executive, said: “It is clear that we have not yet hit the bottom of the jobs market, with demand for staff continuing to contract. Feedback from recruiters confirms that a greater proportion of jobseekers are looking for higher-end positions compared to previous downturns.”

With more candidates pursuing vacancies, starting salaries last month fell at the steepest rate since the survey began in 1997.

Permanent and temporary job placements also fell at near record levels last month.

The only area to buck the the overall trend of sharply falling demand for staff was the nursing, medical and care sector.

The REC is heading a campaign by employers against changes in value added tax due to be introduced next month, which it claims will increase the cost of recruiting temporary workers in insurance, banking, education, charity and healthcare.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.

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