LONDON (Reuters) - Export orders with British firms rose strongly in the first three months of 2013 and confidence about the next 12 months has picked up, the country's largest business survey showed on Tuesday.
The survey of more than 7,000 firms by the British Chambers of Commerce improved almost across the board compared with the last quarter of 2012, suggesting that the economy grew early this year, the body for local business said.
Any growth in national output in the first quarter following a contraction at the end of last year would mean Britain has avoided falling into its third recession in less than five years.
Service firms reported the biggest gains, with export orders and sales rising at a near-record pace.
"The UK is increasingly becoming a largely service sector economy, and developing the export potential of the service sector is critical to our future long-term prosperity," said BCC Chief Economist David Kern.
A balance of 40 percent of service providers expected their turnover to increase over the next year, indicating the highest level of optimism since early 2008.
Manufacturers also turned more upbeat, with a balance of 44 percent forecasting higher turnover.
Despite the overall improvement in British business, growth remains below rates seen before a steep 2008-2009 recession caused by the financial crisis, the Chambers said.
Reporting by Olesya Dmitracova; Editing by Hugh Lawson