THE number of people signing on in Oxfordshire has risen – bucking the national trend.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show 6,842 claimed Jobseeker’s Allowance in January, a rise of 280 on the previous month and the highest figure since August.

But nationally the claimant count fell for the third month in a row – down by 12,500 to 1.54 million, the lowest since June 2011, following a huge increase in employment.

Business leaders in the county have struggled to explain the rise.

Nigel Wild, president of the Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “I have not had any intelligence into why this may be happening. It is a bit of mystery.”

Kate Allen, managing director of Oxford recruitment firm Allen Associates, added: “The way Christmas fell there was a two-week break followed by a bout of cold weather, which may have delayed recruitment. But it has picked up in the last few weeks and I can’t see where those figures are coming from.

“Generally clients are reporting a really positive outlook, although they are creating more temporary positions – which may become permanent – than they were before the recession.”

During January a number of retailers including camera specialist Jessops – which had five stores in the county – and electrical store Comet closed their doors for good while video chain Blockbuster and music retailer HMV went into administration.

While those companies are national, experts say many local stores are also feeling the pinch.

Margaret Coles, chairman of the Oxfordshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “I have noticed more and more shops being boarded up.”

She added that employers were now being cautious before taking on new recruits.

“A lot of people are taking stock and I think the recession is biting more now than a year ago. People keep thinking it will get better and then it doesn’t.”

Across the UK, unemployment, including those not eligible for benefit, fell by 14,000 in the final quarter of last year to 2.5 million – 156,000 lower than a year ago.

n The Oxford and Banbury branches of HMV yesterday escaped the latest round of store closures.