Business leaders in Cumbria should “stride out in a positive direction in 2020”.

That’s the verdict of Barry Leahey MBE, chair of the Cumbria branch of the Institute of Directors (IoD), after latest research highlighted a sharp leap in confidence among business leaders following the Conservative party’s sweeping election victory and the passing of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill through Parliament.

Mr Leahey said the two milestones reached in a frantic two weeks before the end of 2019 provided some certainty for businesses going into the New Year.

“Now we have the building blocks to move forward in 2020, I urge the Government to take this opportunity and move away from points scoring,” said Mr Leahey, who is also managing director of south Cumbria manufacturer Playdale Playgrounds.

“However, just as important is that Cumbria business leaders stride out in a positive direction in 2020 now, we have some certainty, and show the world what we can offer.”

Latest research from the IoD showed that confidence among directors entered positive territory – and reached its highest level – since the 2016 referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union (EU).

The poll of 952 IoD members across the UK in December found that overall confidence in the economy for the year ahead reached a positive 21 per cent – up from the negative 18 per cent for November.

The shift marked the largest positive swing ever recorded by the IoD Confidence Tracker, the organisation said.

Confidence among directors in the prospects for their own firms also increased to a positive 46 per cent, while 18 per cent said they expect their investment levels to increase in 2020.

Hiring expectations also increased slightly although concerns around higher costs and the potential impact of the UK’s future trading relationship with the EU remained concerns.

The IoD’s chief economist Tej Parikh, said: “Britain’s directors will be entering 2020 with a little more festive cheer than might have been expected only a few weeks ago.

“A firm majority Government means that business leaders, whatever their personal views, now at least have a framework around which they can put in place plans to invest, hire, and expand.”

But he added: “However, the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s long-term relationship with our largest trading partner remains a cause for concern.

“Our members’ confidence has proven sensitive to Brexit developments over the past few years, and this is likely to continue during negotiations in the year ahead.”

The survey results reflect the relatively positive sentiment among business leaders in the county following the General Election outcome earlier this month.

And there has been a cautious welcome to the passing of the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill last week, which commits Britain to leaving the EU by January 31.

However, fear remains of a no-deal Brexit as, in voting through the Bill Parliament has also agreed that the Brexit transition period will not run past December 31 next year.

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and tourism industry association UK Inbound have both expressed concerns it could lead to cliff-edge if negotiations with the 27 EU member states do not go as smoothly as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Government expect.