PAYE umbrella contractors attempting to gauge their prospects in 2012 may be modestly heartened by the BCC’s latest quarterly survey of UK businesses, which suggests that hiring confidence is returning amongst employers.

The results of the survey are far from spectacular but do suggest an improvement compared to the first quarter of 2011. The data, which the BCC defends as robust, flies in the face of last week’s OECD report, which suggested that the UK economy would slip back into recession during the first quarter of this year. The new survey predicts that growth in Q1 2012 will be weak but detectable at 0.3% and will rise to 0.6% for the year as a whole (lower than the Government’s Office for Budget Responsibility, which anticipates growth of 0.8%).

Jobbing contractors working through umbrella companies can draw a little comfort at least from these trends, even if they don’t exactly warrant breaking open the champagne. Although confidence is higher amongst employers this quarter compared to the last, it is still precariously feeble. Even so, service sector firms planning to increase their workforces rose to 11% this quarter, up 9 points on the previous quarter.

Calling for “forceful measures” from the coalition to promote growth, the BCC’s Director General John Longworth said: “It’s encouraging to see that businesses are feeling more confident at the start of 2012 than they were at the end of 2011. But that underlines the need to support and foster growth and investment by companies to ensure that the increases we have seen in the first quarter continue.”

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