The number of Welsh businesses planning to hire more staff this year rose during March despite the country’s firms being among the least confident in the UK, according to the the latest Business Barometer from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.

A net balance of 23 per cent of Welsh firms expect to hire more staff over the next year, up two points on last month.

That was despite the fact that Wales registered a confidence figure of 13 per cent, 19 points below the UK average and 11 points lower than February’s high of 24 per cent.

Companies reported lower confidence in their business prospects at 18 per cent, and slightly lower economic optimism at eight per cent.

Overall UK confidence fell one point to 32 per cent, driven by a dip in firms’ economic optimism.

The Business Barometer questions 1,200 businesses monthly and provides early signals about UK economic trends both regionally and nationwide.

Andrew Kemp, regional director for South Wales at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “It’s concerning to see Welsh businesses are finishing the quarter among the least confident in the country, and that this was largely due to companies’ worries about their own business prospects.

“Despite this, however, firms we speak to across the region are resilient about the year ahead, and are looking forward to the upturn in activity that the summer months, and the resulting boost in tourism, could potentially bring.

“However, ongoing uncertainty means that companies are also acting cautiously and are eagerly waiting any clarity that comes from current EU negotiations.”

Across the region, a net balance of four per cent of businesses said they felt that the UK’s exit from the European Union was having a positive impact on their expectations for business activity, up two points on a month ago.

Over all confidence was highest among businesses in London, at 55 per cent, followed by the West Midlands at 42 per cent and the North West at 39 per cent.

Businesses in the South East and Wales were least confident, both with an overall confidence of 13 per cent, 19 points below the national average of 32 per cent.

Over all confidence in March was strongest in the transport and manufacturing sectors, at 55 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

In contrast, it was weakest in wholesale (11 per cent) and hospitality and leisure (18 per cent).

Hann-Ju Ho, senior economist for Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “While firms’ confidence in their business prospects improved slightly in March, overall business confidence was held back by a fall in economic optimism.

“Recent progress on the Brexit negotiations has reduced uncertainty, which could continue to support business confidence going forward. The risk of rising global protectionism, however, is a growing concern.”