9 May 2017

The outgoing Government will not like to read it, this close to the election, but the latest Business Trends Report by business advisers BDO LLP shows that UK business output has fallen to a four-year low.

Its Output Index – which indicates how businesses expect their order books to develop over the next three months – fell to 95.6 in April, from 95.9 in March, the lowest level in four years.

This means that it is now well below the long-term growth trend of 100 and is only just above the point at which it begins to record contraction (95.0).

On a more positive note, the Manufacturing Output Index fell only marginally - from 97.2 to 97.1 - and remains well above the 2016 average of 95.2.

The sector has been buoyed in the last few months by the post-EU referendum fall in the value of sterling, making products more price-competitive, and also the pick-up in the global economy.

It is the slowing services sector, which makes up the majority of the UK economy, that is primarily responsible for the gloomy output figures. BDO’s Output Index for services in April has fallen to 95.3 from 95.7 the previous month.

By comparison, in April 2016, it stood at 100.4.

Despite these figures, BDO’s Manufacturing Optimism Index rose from 110.6 in March to 112.2 in April and is now at its highest since January 2015.

For BDO, Partner Peter Hemington said: "There appears to be growing disconnect between what businesses are experiencing now and how they expect their order books to develop in the coming six months. Current output levels are very close to a zero-growth level, yet UK business people are strongly optimistic."

This would suggest, he concluded, that there could be a significant growth surge in 2018.