The CBI said hotels, bars and others in consumer-facing sectors saw business volumes far outstrip expectations (Reuters)

The UK service sector is hiring staff at the fastest rate in six years and its optimism has been bolstered following a second successive quarter of solid growth, according to an influential business body.

The Confederation of British Industry's survey, which questioned 154 companies, revealed optimism about business conditions (+43%) in the business and professional services sector rose at the fastest pace since the Service Sector Survey began in November 1998.

Some 47% of respondents said they were more optimistic than three months ago and 4% said they were less optimistic.

The research also found in the same sector, which includes accountancy, legal and marketing firms, that headcount expanded strongly (a balance of +28%, resulting from 30% of firms saying numbers employed were up compared with three months ago, and 2% saying they were down).

The CBI said this was the fastest growth since November 2007 (+33%), and a further increase is expected next quarter (+26%).

"Business activity is up, more people are being employed, and optimism is rising fast," said Stephen Gifford, CBI director of economics.

He added: "These are encouraging signs that the recovery is taking hold across the services sector and that investment is picking up.

"Both consumer and business-facing services firms finally seem to be feeling the benefit of growing confidence and spending within the UK and globally."

In addition, the business organisation said hotels, bars, restaurants, travel and leisure firms and others in consumer-facing sectors saw business volumes far outstrip expectations, to grow at the strongest pace since 2007.

The research also discovered the average selling prices increased, so that despite a rise in total costs per person, profitability also improved.

Firms reported the level of business to be above normal for the first time in over six years, and to the greatest extent since 2005, the report disclosed.

In the coming quarter, the CBI claimed firms expect the fastest growth in both the volume and value of business since the start of its survey in 1998.