A leap in payrolled workers across the UK shows firms hired more people after indoor hospitality reopened and ahead of the final lifting of restrictions on July 19.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak declared it a sign the country was “bouncing back”, but businesses leaders have warned of a staffing shortage.
The data from the Office for National Statistics revealed an estimated 208,958 people were on company payrolls in June.
That was 1,861 more people than in May, and the biggest monthly leap during the 16-month period from February last year – the month before the UK was plunged into its first Covid-19 lockdown.
However, June's figure was still 187 down on the number payrolled in north Nottinghamshire during February last year.
Across the UK, there was a 356,000 increase in payrolled workers between May and June – a record since the pandemic started.
However, the total number of people on the payroll – 28.9 million people – was still 206,000 down on February 2020.
Experts say the figures were driven by a hospitality sector buoyed by the easing of restrictions in May, and allowing the opening of indoor venues for groups up to six people.
Companies preparing for the final lifting of restrictions this month in England appear to have also been a factor.
Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics development at the ONS, said: “The labour market is continuing to recover, with the number of employees on payroll up again strongly in June.
“However, it is still down on pre-pandemic levels, while a large number of workers remain on furlough.”
Mr Sunak said he looked forward to more people returning to work thanks to a continuing “rebound” of the economy.
He added: “We are bouncing back – the number of employees on payrolls is at its highest level since last April and the number of people on furlough halved in the three months to May.”
But a warning has been issued over businesses addressing a skills and staff shortage due to the rising number of Covid cases.
Matthew Percival, director for the Confederation of British Industry, said: “Business’s ability to meet demand, and support the recovery, is being challenged by staff shortages.
“As Covid cases rise, firms are facing the double difficulty of hiring workers and more employees self-isolating.”
The payroll data from the ONS is based on people receiving pay through PAYE – HM Revenue and Customs’ system for collecting income tax from salaries.
It also provides figures on pay.
In North Nottinghamshire, the median salary of payrolled workers increased by £6 from May to June to £1,818 a month.
It also marked a rise from February 2020 when it was £1,710 a month.