SERVICE sector firms started the year in upbeat mood after a third consecutive quarter of rising activity, a survey has revealed.

A report from The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says optimism in the consumer and professional services sectors increased at its fastest rate since 1998 for the three months to February.

The consumer sector includes hotels, bars and restaurants, with professional services made up of accountants, legal firms and marketing firms.

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The report says it expects consumer businesses to take on workers at their quickest pace since 2007 in the next quarter.

Anna Leach, CBI head of economic analysis, said: “The year has started well for our service sector firms, with business activity up, optimism high, and profits improving.

“It is encouraging that strong growth is being reported across the whole sector.

“Employment is predicted to rise in the next quarter and expectations for an expansion of business over the year ahead are the strongest for a decade.

“As the recovery gets more firmly entrenched, there are positive signs that 2014 could be a good year in the service sector.”