(Bloomberg) -- British firms are expecting to boost hiring and wages after remaining coronavirus restrictions on the economy were removed in July, according to a survey published Monday.

The optimistic assessment comes amid continuing strong business confidence, which has dipped only marginally from the highest level in three years, the latest Lloyds Bank Business Barometer shows.

Businesses are “clearly saying things have improved significantly and they expect better times ahead,” said Lloyds Senior Economist Rhys Herbert. “The big picture is that confidence has rebounded sharply from last year’s pandemic low.”

The net balance of firms planning to hire more staff reached the highest level since 2018.

Meanwhile, more than a quarter expect wage increases of at least 2%, underlining the incentives companies are having to offer to fill vacancies amid acute staff shortages.

Transport and hospitality were markedly more confident this month, a positive sign for sectors that were among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

The survey, which sampled 1,200 companies during the first two weeks of July, also found:

  • Business confidence is highest in London, the North East and the North West. It’s lowest in Wales and Northern Ireland
  • Employment and pay growth expectations are strongest in hospitality, transport and construction
  • Thirty-nine percent of firms expect to increase prices for goods and services, while just 5% expect to lower them

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