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Business optimism boosts hopes of solid UK growth

Amid growing signs that a recovery is taking hold in Britain, businesses say they are confident the country's economy is growing at a solid pace and has room to strengthen further, a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has revealed.

The business lobby group's Quarterly Economic Survey, contributed to by nearly 8,000 businesses, showed that in both manufacturing and services, all key measures for the fourth quarter were stronger than their long-term averages, with most higher than their 2007 pre-recession levels.

Five of the survey's manufacturing measures - domestic orders, employment, employment expectations, turnover confidence and profitability confidence – came in at all-time highs for the quarter.

U.K. chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, at a Sertec Group Holdings Ltd. factory
Jason Alden | Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.K. chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, at a Sertec Group Holdings Ltd. factory

While export sales and export orders were also at record highs for the services sector, according to the survey, adding weight to the view that the U.K. economy is on course for a steady recovery.

(Read more: UK CFOs feeling upbeat and ready to take risks)

"Firms across the board believe they can create jobs, invest, and export," BCC Director General John Longworth said in a statement. "It is especially pleasing that the spurt in the manufacturing has proven not to be a fluke, which demonstrates the dynamism of our small, high value, manufacturing sector."

He added: "Confidence is high and our members are resolute in their determination to take the recovery from being good to being truly great."

The BCC survey mirrors a string of other surveys and data emanating from an improving British economy.

Last week, the Markit/CIPS Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) eased to 57.3 last month from November's three-year high of 58.1 – but remained well above the 50 mark that signals expansion. On Monday, PMI data for services revealed that growth in the sectoreased in December to a six-month low of 58.8 points, but optimism remained high.

The U.K. manufacturers' organization EEF and Aldermore Bank interviewed 200 senior executives in the manufacturing sector and found that growth was expected in all markets and at manufacturing firms of all sizes in Britain over 2014.

While a survey of CFOs by Deloitte found that U.K.corporates were ready to take risks, expand and hire as business confidence improved for the sixth consecutive quarter.

(Read more: UK manufacturing tipped for major turnaround)

The BCC has already said that it expects economic growth in the U.K. to beat its pre-recession peak in the second half of next year. The business lobby group recently upgraded its short-term gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecasts for the country, from 1.3 to 1.4 percent for 2013 and from 2.2 to 2.7 percent for 2014.

However, its Quarterly Economic Survey did not paint an entirely rosy picture.

In the manufacturing sector, balances for domestic sales and export orders fell slightly in the third quarter, while the sector's cash flow also slipped over the period.

The BCC said this showed the need to promote access to finance to ensure businesses could expand to meet an ever-growing order book.

"Cash flow continues to be an ongoing concern, and may hold businesses back from expanding to meet the growing levels of demand. We must give companies the opportunity to get the finance they need to go out and trade the world if we are to succeed in rebalancing the economy," Longworth added.

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