The logistics sector has suffered its biggest fall in confidence since 2015 as concerns grow about the possible impact of Brexit.

According to the latest UK Logistics Confidence Index report, the sector’s confidence index has fallen from 56.7 in 2017 to 52.6 this year.

This puts industry confidence close to its lowest level ever seen, according to the report's authors.

The report, from Barclays Bank, accounting advisors Moore Stephens and market analysts Analytiqa, polled more than 100 senior executives including MDs and financial directors in the logistics sector in July and August this year.

It found that 60% of respondents believe market conditions will get more difficult in the year ahead, with one in five logistics operators expecting to cut staff numbers in the next 12 months.

Respondents concerns were dominated by uncertainty over Brexit and fears that it could worsen the existing skills shortage in the industry, particularly the driver shortage, the report noted.

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“Our research shows that the logistics sector is unequivocally negative about Brexit, with half (48.9%) of our survey respondents more pessimistic about the outlook for the industry than they were in 2016, compared to just 7.4% who say they are more optimistic,” it added.

Respondents also showed “considerable pessimism about the impact Brexit will have on the logistics sector generally,” according to the research.

The survey also revealed increasing competitiveness within the sector, with nearly 60% of survey respondents saying their main source of new business in the past 12 months has been customers switching providers, up 6.4% on the previous year.

This compares to a 6.2% fall in the number who said new business was down to customers renewing existing contracts.

Nearly a third (29.5%) of respondents saw the provision of value-added services as the key driver behind contract wins in the past 12 months.

This drive to offer value added services will continue to fuel acquisitions in the market, “potentially making this a good time for sellers to take advantage of prevailing market conditions with valuations currently around 5-7% higher than last year,” the report said.

Almost a quarter of respondents (24.2%) saw fast moving consumer goods as the most attractive sector followed by retail and e-commerce (19.9%).

The report said this choice of sectors “may also indicate more defensive strategies focused on relatively recession-proof sectors given the current economic uncertainty”.