Image: Spencer Cooper Image: Spencer Cooper

Manufacturing output in the UK has fallen to its lowest level in three years, according to a closely watched survey.

The Markit/CIPS purchasing managers' index (PMI) survey fell to 49.2 in April, down from 50.7 in March.

Any figure under 50 indicates a fall in output.

Markit said it was the first time output has decreased in the UK's manufacturing sector since March 2013. The economic research firm said the looming referendum on membership of the European Union was largely to blame for the decline.

With uncertainty around the result and what a Brexit would mean for business and the economy, manufacturers grew reluctant to risk increasing output.

Rob Dobson, senior economist at Markit, said: "On this evidence manufacturing production is now falling at a quarterly pace of around 1%, and will likely act as a drag on the economy again during the second quarter and putting greater pressure on the service sector to sustain GDP growth.

"The manufacturing labour market is also being impacted, with the data signalling close to 20,000 job losses over the past three months."

David Noble, group chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS), said: "Recent fears over a stall in the UK's manufacturing sector have now become a reality.

"An atmosphere of deep unease is building throughout the manufacturing supply chain, eating away at new orders, reducing British exports and putting more jobs at risk.

"A sense of apprehension across the sector is being caused by enduring volatility in the oil and gas industry, falling retailer confidence and the uncertainty created by the EU referendum."