BCC: UK services export sales 'at all-time high'

Mini plant, Oxford The BCC said manufacturing was growing consistently

The UK service sector's export sales and orders are at record levels, industry body the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has said.

At the same time, manufacturing is growing consistently, the BCC's survey for the first quarter has found.

Nevertheless, the UK's recent economic growth might be short-term, BCC chief economist David Kern said.

Recovery could stall, as it relies on consumer spending, while personal debt levels were "too high".

Short-term economic growth was strengthening, but "challenges persisted", Mr Kern said.

'Broken' finance system

"UK growth is still reliant on consumer spending, driven by a resurgent housing market and a declining savings ratio," he said.

Mr Kern said personal debt levels "needed to fall" and that it would be hard to maintain growth in the medium term without "significant structural changes to our economy".

Britain's current account deficit was the "largest in the G7" group of major industrialised nations, and would pose "long-term risks" if left unchecked, he said.

"Investment and exports must play a larger contribution to our economic future, or else there is a risk that our recovery could stall," he said.

John Longworth, director general at the BCC, said: "Only by repairing our broken business finance system will viable, growing firms gain access to the capital that will allow them to invest in their staff and machinery, and enter new markets."

The industry body's latest report showed an improvement in services export orders over the past two years, Mr Longworth said.

Exports sales and orders for services such as accountancy and IT have risen to "an all-time high", BCC said.

"Certainly, all the indicators are stellar," Mr Longworth told the BBC. "Things are really looking up on exports."

Nevertheless, the UK must "continue to increase the amount of export support we have", he added.

Export measures

On Monday, Chancellor George Osborne announced further measures to help boost British exporters.

In a speech to business leaders in Rio de Janeiro, he said £6m would be invested in boosting the number of trade advisers to medium-sized firms.

He also said banks that lent to exporters under the UK Export Finance scheme would be able to take those loans to the Bank of England to raise additional finance.

Mr Osborne said that the measure would make it much less risky for banks to lend to exporting firms.

Wages pressure

As the economy gets stronger, people in the UK are starting to put pressure on employers for higher wages, the BCC said.

The BCC said that employees in the service sector, which includes business professional services, consumer services, retail and hotels, were asking for higher pay settlements.

"There is a certain amount of pressure in the service sector, our biggest sector, on wages," Mr Longworth said. "This could be the fix for the cost-of-living crisis. If wages start to increase this year, people will feel better off."

A survey conducted for industry body the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) found that starting salaries went up in March as demand for skilled staff increased.

"Starting salaries and hourly pay rates are up as employers battle to entice the talent they need," REC policy director Tom Hadley said.

"Worsening candidate shortages mean that the number of people available to fill both temporary and permanent jobs is falling at the sharpest rate in nearly a decade," he added.

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