Booming North-east has the country's biggest optimists

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BUSINESSES IN the North-east, after months of complaint about the economy's North-South divide, have become the most optimistic in the country, according to the quarterly regional survey of industry by the Confederation of British Industry yesterday.

It reported that there had been a "marked rise" in export orders over the past four months, despite the criticism of rising interest rates and the strong pound by some of the region's businesses.

There was also good news for the North-east in official figures on the area's jobs market yesterday. Employment climbed by 11,000 in the year to September, and vacancies reached a record level. Unemployed claimants fell by 4,900 over the year to 6.9 per cent of the workforce - the lowest since the regional statistics began in March 1986. Unemployment on the broader survey-based measure has risen by 17,000 to 9.7 per cent, but the difference probably reflected a big increase in people coming back into the workforce.

The survey showed confidence among companies in the North-east rising for the second successive quarter, with optimists about business prospects outweighing pessimists by 46 per cent. This was streets ahead of the next most cheerful regions, Northern Ireland and Wales, both on an optimism balance of 23 per cent, and nearly three times as upbeat as London and the South-east.

The CBI picked out the North-west as the other region where prospects have turned very positive, while Scotland, Yorkshire and the East Midlands were the most downbeat.

Sudhir Junankar, the CBI's associate director of economics, said: "The upswing in confidence is from a very low base and should not be seen as a green light for an interest rate rise."