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South East firms 'most confident'

23 October 09 09:12 GMT

By Mark Norman
BBC South East Business Correspondent

I've tried to count how often people have said to me: "It's been tough" - but I'm afraid I've lost count.

Everyone recognises that this recession has been one of the most difficult downturns in living memory. But there is just a little glimmer of good news. Perhaps.

That glimmer is reinforced by the latest business survey from the South East England Development Agency (Seeda).

In the past few weeks it has interviewed 600 companies across Kent, Sussex and Surrey, and has concluded: "Business performance has improved across the South East, in all sectors and most counties.

'No new projects'

"Confidence is also on the increase, with just one in 10 businesses expecting conditions to get worse over the next three months.

"Employment and investment intentions are higher than in the previous survey, and order books look set to increase in the run-up to Christmas."

So far so good, but they go on to say that "despite these improvements, conditions remain tough across the region and many firms are continuing to struggle, with the recovery set to be long and slow".

Some of those firms that are struggling include builders and retailers.

Seeda says a quarter of our shopkeepers report that their business performance has got worse. More than 20% of builders said the same.

On a building site in the Thames Gateway I spoke to Guy Lambert from Countryside Properties and - guess what? - he said it has been tough.

They have sold more than 100 homes in the past 18 months but he emphasised that while they were completing existing projects they were not about to start any new developments.

That message was reinforced when I interviewed Dr Noble Francis, an economist from the Construction Products Association.

He told me he was anticipating that the number of new homes being built would fall to its lowest level since 1924, and that firms involved in building commercial property were predicting a fall of more than 50% in new builds.

But if some sectors are really struggling to stay afloat, there is one interesting fact to come out of the Seeda survey.

Firms in Kent, Sussex and Surrey are among the most confident in southern England.

No-one is saying this is the start of a sustained substantial recovery but there is a glimmer, just a glimmer of hope, that we are on the road to recovery.

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