LONDON (Reuters) - Businesses in Britain’s dominant services sector reported the slowest sales growth in two years during the final three months of 2018, another sign of a slowing economy ahead of Brexit, the British Chambers of Commerce said on Thursday.
Many retailers had reported difficulties in the run-up to Christmas, but Thursday’s findings — from Britain’s largest private-sector economic survey — point to a broader slowdown among businesses that rely on consumer spending.
Manufacturers also reported weaker sales growth, and orders slowed across the board before Britain’s planned departure from the European Union on March 29.
“The UK economy is in stasis,” BCC director general Adam Marshall said. “With little clarity on the trading conditions they’ll face in just two months’ time, companies are understandably holding back on spending and making big decisions about their futures.”
The Bank of England estimates overall economic growth slowed to 0.2 percent in the final quarter of 2018 from 0.6 percent in the three months before.
Prime Minister Theresa May is struggling to overcome deep opposition to her Brexit plan in her own Conservative Party, raising the risk that no transition period will be provided to ease Britain out of its four-decade-long membership of the EU.
The BCC’s survey of more than 6,000 businesses was carried out from Nov. 5 to Nov. 26, before a lack of parliamentary support forced May to postpone a vote on her Brexit deal.
On Wednesday, a survey of manufacturing purchasing managers showed an unexpected pick-up in growth, but it was driven primarily by businesses seeking to stockpile goods in case of border delays following a possible no-deal Brexit in March.
Despite Brexit worries, most businesses in the BCC survey said they were finding it hard to recruit staff. Manufacturers reported the joint-greatest recruitment difficulties since the survey started in 1989, and the situation for services businesses eased only slightly from a record high in the third-quarter survey.
The BCC again urged the government to limit the scale of likely post-Brexit restrictions on immigration, after a public body advised politicians last month to bar most foreign workers earning under 30,000 pounds a year.
“Companies must be able to access skills at all levels without heavy costs or bureaucracy,” Marshall said.
Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Larry King