SCOTTISH manufacturers suffered tumbling sales and orders in the latest quarter, and cut staffing amid the “tortuous” progress of the Brexit process, a survey reveals today.

Manufacturers’ export orders fell in the third quarter, and their confidence plunged, according to the survey produced by Scottish Chambers of Commerce in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute. And manufacturers expect further falls in sales revenues and investment this quarter.

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The Scottish construction sector signalled its first drop in work-in-progress in six years, as its sales growth slowed sharply.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged the UK will leave the European Union by October 31, “no matter what”.

Professor Graeme Roy, director of the Fraser of Allander Institute, said of the survey findings: “Scottish businesses appear to be treading water as they await clarity on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU.”

And he warned: “A ‘no-deal’ Brexit remains the greatest immediate risk to the Scottish economy. It is misguided to argue that no-deal is better than further delay. A ‘no-deal’ would not only act as a major economic shock but will do little to curb uncertainty, with the UK’s future relationship with the EU still needing resolved.”

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However, he added that “not all of the recent challenges in the Scottish economy can be blamed on Brexit”.

The Scottish manufacturing and construction sectors both signalled reduced investment during the third quarter.

The tourism sector, which reported slower growth, highlighted difficulties in recruiting staff.

This sector is heavily dependent on workers from other EU countries. Net immigration from other EU nations to the UK has tumbled in the wake of the Leave vote in summer 2016, official figures have shown.

Companies in the Scottish retail and wholesale sector also flagged recruitment difficulties.

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Tim Allan, president of Scottish Chambers, said: “Our research shows that overall business performance has declined in the last year as companies take on board extra uncertainties caused by the tortuous progress of the Brexit process.”

He observed that the challenges faced by businesses were “laid bare” in the survey.

Mr Allan said: “As the UK faces yet another deadline in the Brexit process, construction and manufacturing have reported severe challenges in terms of future orders, exports and investment. Meanwhile companies in sectors including retail and tourism face continued challenges in recruiting people with the right skills as the number of available workers from Europe continues to decline.”

He added: “We continue to affirm the view that a disorderly, no-deal departure from [the] EU will have painful, long-lasting consequences for the economy in Scotland and the UK.”

Scotland’s financial and business services sector achieved an acceleration in growth of sales revenue in the third quarter. Firms in this sector also reported an overall rise in optimism, investment and employment, although around 40% of firms in this sector that were in hiring mode reported recruitment difficulties.

Mr Roy said: “Overall, activity appears to be broadly flat over Q3 in most sectors. The one exception is in manufacturing, which continues to be buffeted by ongoing Brexit uncertainty and the slowdown in the global economy.”

Scottish Government data last month showed the economy north of the Border contracted by 0.3% during the second quarter.

However, in the context of the survey findings, Mr Roy expressed his expectation that the Scottish economy would escape recession.

He said: “The data suggests that Scotland should avoid a ‘technical recession’ – defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth – when the next set of official figures are released later on this year.”