Overall confidence among owners of small businesses has risen into “lightly positive territory” after a year and a half languishing “below zero”, according to new research.

With Britain coming out of recession thanks to a rise in GDP in the first three months of this year, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) found a corresponding upturn in sentiment about future prospects.

FSB national chair Martin McTague said: “Our latest Small Business Index report for Q1 found that small firms’ overall confidence level rose into lightly positive territory after six straight quarters below zero, raising hopes that this year will be a brighter one for small business performance than the recent past.

“The month of March’s growth figure of 0.4% builds on the 0.3% and 0.2% recorded in January and February respectively. With twice as many small firms anticipating revenue growth in Q2 as bracing for a drop in sales, according to our research, we hope that this trend persists.

“Three successive months of growth is good news – the challenge now is to build on this momentum. Small firms will be listening carefully to political parties of all stripes as they set out their stalls, and measures which will lift their growth prospects will be especially welcome.”