Employers in the finance sector have predicted an increase in employment prospects for the coming three months.

Figures from Manpower's survey of employment prospects show optimism in the sector.

The survey asked companies, spanning 12 regions and 19 industries, if they expect an increase, decrease or no change in their staffing levels in the next months.

The results show more firms in the finance sector anticipate employing additional staff.

A net jobs gain is calculated by subtracting the percentage of companies expecting to reduce staff numbers by the percentage expecting to take on staff.

Net job gains in finance are eight, making the sector one of the better performers for new jobs, ahead of overall UK employment prospects which face a sharp dive.

UK employer's predictions for January to March show the steepest quarter-on-quarter drop in the 33-year history of the survey, equalling the severe fall in prospects in the first quarter of 1999, when net job gains dropped from 20 to zero, before picking up in the second quarter.

For the first quarter of 2002, the national average net jobs gain is zero, down from a net jobs gain of 20 in the last quarter and 12 this time last year.

One firm in 12 said it would take on staff in the period and a similar number will be laying staff off.

Iain Herbertson, managing director of Manpower, said: "Finance experienced a dip in employment prospects in the early Nineties, showed steady growth from mid-1999 to mid-2001 but has seen a drop in job gains for the last three quarters. The balance is still positive but the trend is downward.

"That said, the first quarter of the year is always the slowest for employment prospects, fuelled by the traditional slow-down in consumer spending, and not all types of work are in decline. Indeed, in a period of economic uncertainty we are seeing greater use of flexible workforces."

The survey shows businesses in the South East are most confident and companies in the North West are pessimistic and predict the greatest number of job losses.