SCOTTISH businesses reined in moves to build capacity through capital spending and new hires in the first quarter, as access to growth capital tightened, a survey has revealed.
This fall in capacity-building activity has occurred even though Scottish firms have seen a further sharp increase in business opportunities, according to findings published today by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.
Meanwhile, the Scottish breakdown of ACCA's global economic conditions report also shows that 79 per cent of the accountants who responded to the survey north of the Border were optimistic about economic recovery, up from 76 per cent in late 2013 and ahead of a figure of 70 per cent for the UK as a whole.
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Only 21 per cent of respondents in Scotland were pessimistic about economic recovery, compared with 26 per cent UK-wide.
Craig Vickery, head of ACCA Scotland, said: "These results certainly show that business confidence is continuing to rise and it seems there is a clear divergence in opinion between businesses in Scotland and in the rest of the UK."
Emmanouil Schizas, ACCA senior economic analyst, said the latest survey showed signs of Scottish respondents' rejecting the UK Government's austerity programme.
However, Mr Schizas declared: "Despite buoyant conditions on the ground, access to growth capital has tightened in Scotland and is back to levels seen in mid-2012, breaking a year-long trend towards convergence with the rest of the UK, which typically enjoys easier access to growth capital."
He added: "As a result, business capacity-building, including capital spending and new hires, fell in Scotland in early 2014, following a full year of accelerating investment."
Figures published by the Bank of England have shown a continuing decline in outstanding bank lending to UK businesses. But banks have cited muted demand for borrowings, and highlighted major repayment of debt.
The latest Bank of England lending figures last week showed a net fall of £2.4 billion in lending to non-financial businesses in the UK in April.
This included a net fall of £629 million in lending to UK small and medium-sized enterprises outside the financial sector. This net basis takes into account repayments of loans.
A survey published last week by financial services company Close Brothers showed that more than half of Scottish businesses which planned to seek funding for growth in the next 12 months were worried their bank would turn them down.