THE real value of average earnings of all employees resident in East Lothian has dropped by 13.3 per cent since April 2008, new research has revealed.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics ranked the county as having the ninth-highest drop in Scotland, and showed that East Lothian was below the average drop of 9.5 per cent.

Community leaders say it is evidence of the harsh economic climate, but have vowed to do all they can to help arrest the decline.

But one trade union has called for a living wage and pay rises to combat the effect of the recession.

The figures showed that the mean gross annual earnings for county residents in 2008 was �25,668 - which had risen to just �26,049 in November last year. However, in real value terms, that is seen as a 13.3 per cent drop.

The worst local authority was neighbouring Scottish Borders, where the drop was 20.3 per cent - but nearby West Lothian bucked the trend dramatically, with the real value of earnings rising by 16.3 per cent.

Compared to the whole of the UK, however, Scotland fared second-best - with a 9.5 per cent drop in the real value of earnings well below the 17.4 per cent drop seen in London.

Iain Gray, East Lothian MSP, said: "The figures for East Lothian are of real concern and underline the significant cost of living squeeze local families have experienced in recent years. "As a result, households have had to cut their spending which is clearly harming the economy and stifling growth.

"Moves such as East Lothian Council's introduction of the living wage for its employees and its adoption of a new Economic Development Strategy will certainly help. He claimed that the cost of living squeeze would continue "unless the SNP Government at Holyrood and UK coalition Government change course and take action to create jobs and provide more help for people on low and middle incomes".

Councillor Paul McLennan, leader of the opposition SNP Group in East Lothian, called the figures "disappointing".

He added: "The previous SNP administration introduced measures such as new house building to lower housing costs, introduced free school meals in areas of multiple deprivation and supported business through the business bonus rates scheme.

"The SNP also supported local families by keeping the council tax freeze pledge, saving families more than �330 over a five-year period.

"The council's new Economic Development Strategy commissioned by the SNP Group states the aim of growing more local business and attracting inward investment, which has cross-party support." Councillor John McMillan, East Lothian Council cabinet spokesperson for economic development and tourism, outlined the council's moves to reverse the trend.

He said: "We will be working with partners to develop East Lothian's sectors, for example industry and tourism, as well as increasing our profile and general awareness of what East Lothian has to offer in the national and global marketplace.

"We are also actively looking at improving our connectivity and business infrastructure, energising our town centres and developing more sustainable employment." But Harry Donaldson, secretary of trade union GMB Scotland, said: "Consumer spending is the single biggest component of demand in the economy and with the real value of wages from employment falling there is no mystery as to why the economy is in a downward spiral.

"The replacing of full-time permanent jobs with part-time and temporary lower paid jobs is part of this.

"In both the public and private sectors GMB is organising active local campaigns in support of a living wage of �7.45 an hour (�8.30 in London). "A living wage and pay rises to help hard-pressed families as bills go through the roof are needed to boost the economy and stop the downward spiral."