UK firms' pessimism regarding the credit availability lessened during the three months to March, the latest Access to Finance Survey by the Confederation of British Industry revealed Saturday.

For new credit, the net percentage of firms saying availability had deteriorated in the past three months was a balance of minus 36%, compared with minus 59% in February. For existing credit, the balance was minus 16% compared with minus 25%.

There are signs that the credit crunch may have become less severe for some businesses, the CBI said in a note.

Ian McCafferty, the CBI's chief economic adviser said, Firms are not saying that credit conditions are getting better, but the severity of the disruption is no longer worsening as sharply as it was three months ago.

He said the combination of easier monetary policy and the government's measures to support the banking sector may be starting to have an impact.

Numbers of companies expecting conditions to worsen in the next three months fell back a little in March, with a balance of minus 36%. It was slightly better than minus 38% recorded in the previous month.

Firms said the cost of finance continued to rise and access to trade credit insurance has worsened over the past three months.

The CBI found nearly 46% of firms cut staff numbers over the past three months as a result of the credit crunch, marking a slight increase on February's figure of 40%.

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