Preliminary results from the UK Institute of Directors poll show that the number of people in the UK who do not want to leave the EU has gone from 30% to 40%. News from a think-tank yesterday said the UK is going to pass out France in terms of the size of its economy this year, making the UK Europe’s second biggest economy. UK business is growing, there are job opportunities and small business - at least - is not thinking about any potential exit from the European Union should the Conservatives return to power and hold a promised in-out referendum in two years time. But, there are quite a lot of "ifs" in this debate.

James Sproule, an economist and director of policy at the Institute of Directors, says the UK economy is doing "pretty well" after the significant downturn the county experienced after the credit crisis. Mr Sproule says the country has managed to pay back a lot of debt which means that the UK economy is in a much better place than it was in 2010. But the difficulty now, he says, is that people think austerity is over while the country still has a huge deficit and huge debts and the economy still has a long way to go with a lot more consolidation needed in the public finances. People did not realise how bad things has actually been in 2010 and one of the key reasons for this is that the UK government has managed to keep interest rates at record lows for so long, the economist explains. He believes the worst of all possible situations now would be if investors lost confidence in gilts and the UK government. Then the government could find itself in a "terrible situation" which it would have to put up taxes to pay for increased debt servicing payments.

During the election campaign, the Prime Minister noted that more jobs were created in Yorkshire than the whole of France last year. Mr Sproule says that the UK economy has been seeing really good jobs growth across the country as a whole. He says there has been a "deal" between companies and their employees where workers don't ask for pay rises and the company will do its best to keep people on. This has managed to keep UK business competitive, while workers' skills are also being maintained and incomes continue to come in. However, most British businesses are now looking at pay rises this year, and crucially, these pay rises are in line with the company's performance, or in other words they are sustainable, he says.

Members of the Institute of Directors are keen to see the UK remain a constructive part of the European Union, but crucially they want to see reform. If they don't see reform, the question of Europe becomes much more open, Mr Sproule states. If there is no reform, the economy of the European Union will continue to stagnate, he cautions.

***
MORNING BRIEFS - Business sentiment here reached its highest levels in eight years as confidence in the economy continues to improve, according to the latest KBC Bank Ireland/ Chartered Accountants Ireland Business Sentiment Index.  

*** Cavan-based building materials group Kingspan has seen a strong start to the year, which it said reflected a continuation of the positive trading pattern seen in the second half of last year,