The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said its quarterly economic survey showed businesses were well placed to grow this year, although it warned this may not last if “political point scoring” dominated the election campaign.
BCC director general John Longworth said it was pleasing to see the manufacturing sector bounce back from signs of slowdown in recent months.
The balance of industrial firms reporting an increase in domestic sales rose to plus 36 per cent from 23 per cent in the previous quarter, with the domestic orders balance up to 38 per cent and export sales up by 10 percentage points to plus 26 per cent.
In the services sector, domestic and export sales balances rose in the quarter after stagnating over the previous three months.
The survey found an all-time high number of firms plan to recruit staff, with the balance of manufacturing firms operating at full capacity up by one point to plus 41 per cent and the figure for service firms flat at plus 46 per cent. The BCC said the latest results supported its view that annual UK growth would stabilise above two per cent.
But Mr Longworth warned: “The UK’s economic recovery still faces several obstacles, intensified by the uncertainty of the upcoming general election. Businesses are bouncing back, but their optimism may not last if political point scoring outweighs sound economic policies.
“It is imperative that all political parties use the forthcoming election campaign to outline their plans to support long-term business growth and investment.”
The findings contrast with recent CIPS/Markit surveys, where a combined reading from the construction, manufacturing and services sectors fell from 57.7 in November to 55.4, its lowest since May 2013.