British businesses were todaywarned against "talking themselves" into a recession as figures showed plummeting confidence for 2008.

In a survey of 600 UK firms by accountants Grant Thornton, a balance of 14 per cent were more optimistic about this year - far below the 43 per cent at the same time last year. However, firms in the Midlands remain more cheerful about their prospects than anywhere else in the country.

The latest national figure, the difference between the percentage of businesses feeling better about the coming year and those feeling worse, is the lowest since 2006's balance of plus eight per cent.

UK optimism was also lower than the 22 percent positive balance recorded in the US - the home of the sub-prime credit crisis - which rose eight per cent on the year.

Alysoun Stewart, head of Grant Thornton's strategic services group, said that if American bosses had reason to be cheerful, then the UK's should too.

She said: "The US is currently experiencing a greater fallout from the credit crunch than the UK, yet businesses there are more confident about the year ahead than we are.

"If the US can be positive about withstand-ing the effects of the credit crunch, then so can we."

Reasons given for the increased UK gloom included global economic uncertainty, fears over falling consumer spending, and the lack of skilled workers.The EU average was also more than twice the UK's at plus 35 per cent.

Ms Stewart added: "While no-one is suggesting that 2008 is going to be a walk in the park, businesses still need to be cautious that they don't end up talking the country into a recession.

"We need to cast aside our negative attitudes and focus on solutions rather than the problems."

Despite falling UK confidence, expectations for turnover and selling prices were more optimistic at plus 68 per cent and 42 per cent respectively, up from 64 per cent and 35 per cent in 2007.

Anticipation about employment levels was also more positive, at plus 36 per cent, up from 33 per cent.

But hopes for better profits were slightly down, with a balance of plus 54 per cent compared with 57 per cent in 2007.

Businesses in the Midlands expressed the highest levels of confidence for the year ahead in the UK, with an optimism balance of plus 19 per cent. London and the South was next, with plus 14 per cent, followed by the East of England at plus six per cent.

Firms in the South-West, West and Wales were equally split, while those in the North fared the worst with a balance of minus one per cent.

Meanwhile, business volumes among financial services firms fell at their fastest rate for nearly 17 years during the past quarter as the credit crunch continued to bite, figures showed today.

The two-year run of strong growth in the sector came to an end during the three months to early December as the credit squeeze continued, according to the latest financial services survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the CBI.

A total of 44 per cent of companies said business volumes had fallen during the period, while just ten per cent said they had increased.

This gave a net balance of minus 33 per cent, the lowest level since March 1991 when minus 44 per cent of firms reported a slide in activity.

At the same time business sentiment continued to worsen, with 49 per cent of companies now saying they feel less optimistic than they did in September, while operating costs increased for the fourth quarter running.

A balance of 11 per cent of firms also reported a drop in income from fees, commission and premiums, while income from interest, investment and trading fell at its fastest rate since the survey began in 1989.

Average spreads - the difference between the rates at which firms borrow and lend money - also narrowed again, and they are expected to compress further in the coming three months.

But despite this, several sectors of the industry managed to increase profitability during the period, with many still hiring staff and planning to increase investment, particularly in IT.