THE number of people claiming unemployment benefits more than doubled in Carmarthenshire in the first full month of the coronavirus lockdown, a council report has said.

It said 5,495 people in the county were claiming unemployment-related benefits in April, compared to 2,420 in April 2019.

Carmarthenshire’s claimant rate last year was lower than the Wales and UK average, but the increase this year was higher.

The report said this could be because the county’s economy was characterised by more self-employed people than average, who may have found it harder to access grants and support.

It warned unemployment numbers could rise significantly in the coming months.

“The majority of job losses are likely to be at a lower skills level as these jobs tend to be part-time, low paid and more unstable,” said the report.

The report included an online business survey, which 574 firms responded to.

In total, 83 per cent of respondents said the effect of Covid-19 had been significant.

Fewer than one per cent of businesses experienced an increase in trade, and 11 per cent had laid off staff. Cash-flow was a fundamental issue.

In the worst-case scenario, said the report, just under 1,000 jobs had been wiped out as a result of the coronavirus.

And most business would not be able to operate longer than three months unless there were changes.

Lockdown measures are gradually being eased in Wales, and the current five-mile travel restriction could be lifted on July 6.

The council has set up an internal group to coordinate the delivery of an economic recovery plan. External advice could also be sought.

An overarching advisory group, comprising private sector leaders, will also be created to help the authority develop and refine the plan.

“This group will set the vision and direction for recovery,” said the report.

The draft recovery plan focuses on 11 key areas, from infrastructure to planning, and tourism to skills. Measures could include creating additional employment areas, particularly for industry and business start-ups.

The draft plan is also in favour of continuing with significant regeneration projects to boost demand in the construction sector and stimulate confidence.

A county-wide “development order” to help revive town centres could also be considered, with new milk processing facilities explored.

The council has been administering UK-wide business rates relief and business grant support schemes.

It also offered a three-month rent-free period to all its commercial tenants.

Developers and investors have told the council that there are opportunities, including marketing development sites to companies in other UK cities who were looking to lower costs and increase employee quality of life.

The report said: “Now is the time to make real change, to make a difference we must have the courage to challenge the norm.”