The Employment Minister Chris Grayling has told employers to prioritise local youths who look “unwilling to work” over Eastern Europeans.

He launched the new drive to get more people into work as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that unemployment has fallen by 35,000 this quarter – the first decline in almost a year.

Mr Grayling urged British companies to “put local recruits first” and not go for the “easy” option of hiring older and more experienced Eastern Europeans, in a speech to the Policy Exchange, a thinktank.

He said: “It’s easy to hire someone from Eastern Europe with five years experience and who has had the get up and go to cross a continent in search for work. And many employers do so.

“But those who look closer to home find gems too. Very often the surly young man in a hoodie who turns up looking unwilling to work can turn into an excited and motivated employee. It’s all about the expectations that they have, and the place they come from. And employers who give them that chance find it enormously rewarding.”

“So I stand foursquare behind my hope that British employers will put local recruits first.”