Activity in the UK manufacturing sector remained robust in March and overall demand continued to rise, with total orders improving. However, output growth and export orders eased on last month, according to the latest CBI Industrial Trends Survey.

The survey of 368 manufacturers found that total order books improved slightly again in the three months to March. This strength was broad based, with above-average results in 14 out of 17 sectors. Export orders fell back, but remained above average in 11 out of 17 sectors.

Output growth also slipped to a five-month low, but still remained firmly above average. Growth is expected to edge up over the next three months, albeit at a slower pace than predicted in January and February.

Anna Leach, CBI head of economic analysis, said: “The picture in the manufacturing sector remains positive. Overall, demand continues to rise and output growth is robust.

“Growth in exports is crucial to rebalancing the economy and ensuring a sustainable recovery. Over the last few surveys, manufacturing export orders have underperformed relative to overall orders as the UK’s domestic recovery has caught hold more quickly than some of our key trading partners – most particularly, the Eurozone.

“Measures announced in the Budget should help businesses to break into new, faster growing markets and underpin an improvement in the UK’s export performance.”

The report’s key findings were that 29% of firms reported that total order books were above normal, 18% said their export order books were above normal and 36% said the volume of output over the last three months was up.

Firms expect output to grow in the coming quarter with 37% predicting growth over the next three months, 21% of firms said their present stocks of finished goods were more than adequate.