A new survey reveals the majority of Irish businesses feel that the Government's four year plan provides a reasonable framework for recovery, but that the Government's forecasts are slightly too optimistic.

61% of businesses surveyed for the Winter 2010 KBC Bank/Chartered Accountants Ireland Business Sentiment Survey feel that the IMF/EU assistance improves the country's economic outlook, while 16% thinks it worsens the country's prospects.

The survey shows that business activity was broadly steady at the end of the year with conditions varying widely between different sectors.

Those firms focused on external trade or benefiting from the spillover impact on business services reported continuing growth. But firms in the construction or services sector saw a further deterioration in the activity in the final months of 2010.

KBC says that the outlook for the first few months of 2011 remains cautious, with marginally more companies seeing an improvement in activity rather than a decline.

It says the Irish economy 'is effectively operating at three distinct speeds, encompassing businesses that are already some distance into recovery, a middle group experiencing broadly flat trading conditions and a third group seeing further declines in activity'.

The survey also reveals that the numbers at work in the Irish economy continued to fall in the final months of 2010. But during the last three months of the year there was a marginal improvement in hiring compared to the previous quarter and a slight reduction in the breadth of layoffs.