Of the 484 firms surveyed, 64 per cent saw the volume of total new orders fall in the three months to April, while 13 per cent reported an increase. The resulting balance of -51 per cent is the lowest figure since the survey began in 1988.
That had a knock-on effect on the volume of output with 57 per cent of firms reporting a decline, and 9 per cent seeing a rise, giving a balance of -48 per cent, another survey low.
Russel Griggs, chairman of the CBI’s SME council, says: “It has been a torrid few months for smaller manufacturers. With orders and output falling at the fastest rate since this survey began, many firms have had no option but to let staff go.
“Although companies seem hopeful that the pace of decline in manufacturing activity may be moderating slightly, the next three months are still going to be very tough for many firms.
“This survey shows worries about credit and finance are continuing to constrain some firms’ plans, but we are hopeful that recent government and monetary measures should see access to credit getting easier in the coming months."
Half of respondents reduced their headcount during the quarter while 6 per cent took on staff.
Despite the relative weakness of sterling, export orders shrank at a faster rate than firms had been expecting (a balance of -39 per cent), while domestic orders also remained very weak (a balance of -52 per cent).
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