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There are more job vacancies in the UK than at any time since the heady days before the recession, according to figures released this week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

According to the ONS, there are now 580,000 vacancies in the UK, the highest figure since September 2008, when the economy was at its pre-recession height. This is up from 492,000 in the same period (November to January) a year ago.

The ONS estimates show that the number of people out of work fell by 125,000 to 2.34m in the final quarter of 2013.

More than 193,000 more people were in work in the three months to the end of December than in the previous quarter. This brings the total number in employment to more than 30m.

However, due to a statistical quirk, the rate of unemployment edged up slightly to 7.2% in the last quarter of 2013, from 7.1% in the three months ending November 2013.

Youth unemployment dropped by 1% on the last quarter, with 49,000 more 16-to-24-year-olds in work.

Kate Shoesmith, head of policy at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), says: “Today’s figures are more good news. The key indicators about numbers of people in work, benefits claimants, and both youth and long-term unemployed are going in the right direction.

“Even better, the official statistics are starting to reflect the data we collect every month from recruiters, which shows that both starting salaries for permanent jobs and agency worker pay rates are increasing month-on-month.

“There’s more good news when you look behind the headline statistics. For instance, we know that nine out of 10 employers have offered a permanent role to someone who was temping for them in the last year.”

Chris Williamson, chief economist at economic consultancy Markit, says: “Employment rose by 193,000 in the fourth quarter, its largest quarterly rise since the second quarter of 2012, up 396,000 on a year earlier. The increase was driven primarily by a rise in full-time work.

“The vacancy ration [the number of unemployed people per unfilled vacancy] now stands at 4.0, the lowest seen since November 2008, and which points to further employment and earnings growth in coming months.”

The number of people in part-time work remains high, standing at 1.4m, which is 46,000 higher than a year ago, according to the ONS.

Vicky Clark, director at national legal recruitment business BCL legal claims “There’s certainly some optimism with the latest employment figures. The legal sector is extremely buoyant in a variety of areas spurred in part by changes to the law. As a result of the reforms and businesses converting to ABSs many are hiring large numbers of legal professionals to gear up for flotation, a sale or other cash injection”.

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