BUSINESSES in Dorset are dealing with a “stagnant” economy and “huge” problems finding staff as Brexit looms.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has warned that the economy is stuck in a “weak holding pattern”, with uncertainty over Brexit affecting sales and recruitment.

Its quarterly survey of 6,000 firms found problems hiring staff were at near-record highs.

Four out of five manufacturers were struggling to recruit skilled workers, with almost as many services companies having similar problems, the BCC said.

Ian Girling, chief executive of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “The Quarterly Economic Survey is one of the most reliable and trusted business surveys in the UK.

“There is no doubt that the economy has been fairly stagnant for many months, and whilst we haven’t seen a contraction, we also haven’t seen growth in the economy for some time.

“This has been recognised by the Bank of England who have downgraded their growth forecasts. We’ve seen both businesses and consumers face increasing prices as the Bank of England seeks to reduce inflation.

“I would certainly concur with the findings around recruitment – low unemployment is causing businesses huge problems in recruiting staff and this is a barrier to growth.

“Of course, the whole situation is compounded by the huge uncertainties businesses face regarding Brexit and there is no doubt this is having a real impact right now. We can expect this to continue until we begin to see some clarity on the withdrawal proposal.”

Mr Girling has previously called for the county’s MPs to back Theresa May’s withdrawal deal with the European Union.

The BCC found the percentage of manufacturers expecting to raise prices is at its highest level in a year.

Its director-general, Dr Adam Marshall, said: “Throughout much of 2018, UK businesses were subjected to a barrage of political noise and drama, so it’s no surprise to see firms report muted domestic demand and investment.

“In this new year, the government must demonstrate that it is ready to act to turbo-charge business confidence.”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.”

He added: “The government’s absolute priority now must be to provide clarity on conditions in the near-term and avoid a messy and disorderly Brexit. Business communities won’t forgive politicians who allow this to happen, by default or otherwise.”