CONFIDENCE among Oxfordshire businesses has dropped amid fears of a double dip recession, according to a new survey.

A report has revealed firms in the county are concerned about their prospects for the months ahead.

The Lloyds TSB Business in Britain Confidence Index quizzed 170 businesses across Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and the South Midlands.

It found 63 per cent said they were concerned about weak domestic markets.

The report showed many firms plan to freeze investment and raise prices in the face of continuing economic uncertainty.

Ian Wenman, chairman of the Oxfordshire branch of the Institute of Directors, said: “What with worries over interest rates, quantitative easing and inflation, it’s no surprise businesses are finding it difficult to plan, which in turn is bound to affect confidence.

“The big issue for me and many businesses is, will we have a double dip recession? This is a period when we will have to hold our breath and wait and see.”

But exporters were faring well with 43 per cent of firms questioned expecting to continue exporting at current levels, while just five per cent predicted a fall.

As for jobs, the vast majority of businesses expected staffing numbers to remain the same, with 10 per cent expecting a fall and 13 per cent expecting staff numbers to rise over the next six months.

And in terms of investment, while half plan to keep spending at current levels, 22 per cent plan to cut back.

John Robson, the regional director for Lloyds TSB Commercial, said: “There is a real danger that, without continuing investment and innovation, the competitiveness of businesses could be undermined – and the worries firms harbour about weaker growth could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

But Terry Sweeney, chief executive of international education technology firm RM Education, based at Milton Park, said: “Business confidence has remained positive, despite changes in our operating environment. November saw our third successive year of record revenue and profit.

“But we can’t afford to be complacent and we recognise the business environment will be tougher in 2011. We must keep innovating to respond to changing needs.

“We’ve good reasons to continue to feel confident, but we need to keep working hard to meet the changing needs of customers, both nationally and internationally.”