Company failures are soaring, according to the latest figures from Experian, the global information solutions company.

In the first three months of 2006, they increased by 15.3 per cent to 4,818 - the highest quarterly rise since 1999.

Recent high profile collapses in the West Midlands include Eliza Tinsley, Cradley Print and Firmin.

There has also been a jump, for the first time since the first quarter of 2002, in the number of firms going into compulsory liquidation.

Administration orders are also on the increase - up 55 per cent on the same period last year.

The number of stricken companies in the West Midlands is well ahead, though it is nowhere near the worst region. However the motor trade is taking a hammering.

Richard Lloyd, managing director of Nottingham-based Experian's business information division, said: "This increase is alarming.

"In 2004, the UK recorded the lowest number of corporate failures since 1998, but insolvencies have now been rising at an increasing rate since then. These latest figures really reflect current market conditions and illustrate some of the threats that businesses, especially in certain sectors, are experiencing.

"No region has bucked this trend. In fact, every UK region has seen an increase in the number of businesses failing."

In total, 4,818 companies failed during the first quarter of 2006, compared with 4,180 in the first quarter of 2005. V oluntary liquidations increased by 3.9 per cent over the same period, administration orders by 55 per cent, compulsory liquidations by 26.5 per cent and receiverships by 9.7 per cent. Only voluntary arrangements fell, by 24.2 per cent.

Of the 34 industries surveyed by Experian, 22 recorded an increase in business failures in the first quarter.

Most noticeably, among the larger sectors, these included building and construction (up 17 per cent), information technology (up 39 per cent), food manufacturing (up 26 per cent), media (up 35 per cent), food retailing (up 52 per cent), non-food retailing (up 48 per cent), business services (up 33 per cent), property (up 85 per cent) and motor traders (up 68 per cent).

Most of those sectors which saw a decline already had very low failure levels, such as building materials (from three failures in the sector to just two), chemicals (nine to six), electricals (36 to 32) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (20 to 14).

Business services continued to record the highest number of failures - 965, compared with 724 in the first quarter of 2005 - representing an increase of 33 per cent. For the first time, corporate failure rose in all regions, with Wales recording the highest rise, up 65 per cent (to 114).

In East Anglia, business failures were up 54 per cent (to 149), in the South West (up 34 per cent to 278), North West (up 33 per cent to 626), London (up 15 per cent to 948), East Midlands (up 16 per cent to 257), West Midlands (up 16 per cent to 429), Scotland (up nine per cent to 197), North East (up eight per cent to 81), South-east (up 7.2 per cent to 980) and Yorkshire and the Humber (up four per cent to 432).

Mr Lloyd said: "Businesses need to be vigilant.

"Following the sharp rise in corporate insolvencies in 2005, we predicted that the increase would continue into this year, and we see no reason for the insolvency rate to slow down.

"Rising insolvencies can have a knock-on effect of bringing down more businesses with them. As more companies go under, their suppliers are left with bad debts, which will, in some cases, tip the supplier over the edge, resulting in even more job losses."