THE outlook for the business and financial services sector – which employs thousands locally – has fallen to a nine-year low which could spell redundancies, research suggests.

A national study said “weakness” in the sector was dragging down the national employment outlook for the coming months and could spell redundancies.

Finance and insurance employ around 15,000 people in Dorset, while business administration and support are worth 17,000 jobs.

Employment group Manpower, which commissioned the research, pointed to bank branch closures and new compliance rules as reasons for the fall.

Manpower managing director James Hick said: “This is the first quarter since 2009 – when Britain was in the depths of the financial crisis –that we’ve seen business and financial services employers record a negative outlook.

“As the UK is a global centre for financial and professional services, if the sector’s shrinking, it’s not good news for UK plc. While financial services only employ 3.5 per cent of workers, it generates about 11 per cent of government tax receipts.”

Professor Jens Holscher, head of accounting, finance and economics at Bournemouth University’s business school, said: “I would take this really seriously.”

He has previously warned of likely job losses from Brexit, but said the shift in the latest figures seemed to be down to technology.

“What I see here is digitalisation at work. People are not going into their bank branches and hardly have any cash any more. The shift is technical, not one of Brexit uncertainty,” he said.

“The financial sector is under threat. This is retail banking and there’s no reason why they should do better than Poundworld or M&S or House of Fraser. This is just the modern age we are in.”

Jason Gault, managing director of Dorset recruitment firm TeamJobs, said his own experience of the local area suggested business was more upbeat than the research suggested.

“We’re still finding there’s a considerable degree of optimism. We’re finding companies are still investing,” he said.

“It’s hard to tell whether that’s Dorset’s economic bubble, but even with companies outside the area I generally find there’s a lot more optimism than we read in the news.

“Every time I got into a leadership forum, it’s not doom and gloom and making cuts. People are growing and it’s still a very positive environment.”