“Corporate balance sheets are still being squeezed to the last penny,” said Basil Bannayi, managing director of Close Brothers Asset Finance’s print division. “But it is encouraging to see that some, if only a few, are starting to see pay increases.”

The findings were included in the Close Brothers Business Barometer, a quarterly survey of SME owners and managers across a range of sectors, which included 550 companies.

The survey revealed that of 33 print and packaging companies, 20% gave staff pay rises in the last year – double that of 2012. Meanwhile 17% anticipated giving staff a pay rise within the next 12 months.

“Taking inflation into account the print industry has contracted 25% in five years. It has a revenue of about £9bn, a reduction of 6% in one year. So it’s hard to see how there could be many pay rises or much capital investment or expansion,” said Bannayi.

He added that although the last few years had been challenging, the survey findings may suggest that there were “still some printers who have viable business models” and were still able to reward staff for their efforts. “Hopefully this is a sign that things have begun to pick up,” he said.

“I think things will get better in the next year or two. People have become weary of talking the industry down. The enormous cull of firms without viable business models is nearing completion,” Bannayi added.

“Companies have managed to evolve and work to the challenges. Some have latched on to alternatives to going cap in hand to the bank manager for an overdraft. Some are using asset finance, but more need to explore alternatives.”

Bannayi said that of the print and packaging firms surveyed, two thirds had not approached their bank in the last six months, with a quarter of those admitting they were worried their existing overdraft may be cut.

“It is essential these SMEs are aware of their financial options if they are to safeguard any tentative progress towards recovery.”