More that two thirds of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in East Anglia are expecting to grow over the next three months, with nearly half reporting increased sales during the first quarter of the year, according to a new survey.

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The latest quarterly Business Factors Index from Bibby Financial Services found that 68% of SMEs in the region are on course for sales growth during the second quarter, building on the 49% which reported an increase during the first.

Around one in six SMEs in the region said sales had increased “significantly” in the three months to the end of March, echoing the national findings of the survey which point to an increasingly positive view of a wider economic recovery.

The growing sense of optimism is also reflected in an increase in recruitment with nearly a fifth (18%) of SMEs in the region already having taken on new staff this year and a further 16% saying they plan to take on more employees in the near future.

The report also shows that nearly a quarter (23%) of SMEs in East Anglia have invested in their current work force while nearly half (49%) say they have invested in either new or current premises, equipment or technical services.

The outlook for the second quarter is similar, with 69% of SMEs expecting sales to rise including 20% which expect to see significant growth.

Nearly two thirds (66%) plan to invest in their business, more than a quarter (27%) plan to recruit or invest in their current staff and one fifth (20%) plan to invest in new technology or equipment.

Sharon Wiltshire, managing director for Bibby Financial Services in East Anglia, said: “The findings of our research for Q1 2014 reflect national SME performance according to our headline index data, which recorded the highest level of first quarter output among our 4,000 invoice finance clients since 2008.

“However, if SMEs in East Anglia are going to realise their growth ambitions, it is important that they have access to funding that supports the development of their business.

“One in 10 SMEs say they struggle with poor cash flow, and often, traditional forms of finance are unable to offer a solution. A flexible facility such as invoice finance works in tandem with the growth of a business, and is ideally suited to providing the kind of specialist support needed by many firms in the East Anglia area at this time.”

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