Business activity increased across the South West private sector for the first time in six months in March, according to latest UK regional PMI® data from NatWest.

At 50.8, the headline NatWest South West Business Activity Index which measures the month-on-month change in the combined output of the region’s manufacturing and service sectors – was above the 50.0 ‘no change’ mark for the first time in six months.

It signals a renewed expansion of business activity.

But the rate of growth was marginal and much softer than the UK-wide trend (index at 56.4).

The amount of new orders received by private sector firms in the South West increased during March, ending a five-month period of decline.

Companies that reported higher sales often mentioned increased confidence due to the roadmap out of lockdown and the restarting of previously delayed projects.

Paul Edwards, Chair, NatWest South West Regional Board, said: “The data showed that the South West is starting to recover as the roadmap out of the lockdown and vaccine progress boosted market confidence and drove the first increases in output and sales since last September.

“However, rates of growth were not as strong as those seen at the national level suggesting the region still has some catching up to do.

“Nonetheless, optimism towards the outlook remained historically sharp, and supported a renewed and solid rise in employment as companies anticipate busier months as we head into summer and restrictions are loosened further.”

Firms hoped that the easing of COVID-19 containment measures and more normal business operations would lead to a release of pent-up customer demand and drive an upturn in activity.

Across the UK as a whole, confidence was slightly stronger than that seen in the South West.

Businesses in the South West signalled a renewed increase in workforce numbers during March.

It marked the first expansion for just over a year, with the rate of job creation the quickest seen since September 2017 and solid.