BUSINESSES in Dorchester were given an optimistic outlook on the future of the economy by West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin.
The cabinet minister was guest speaker at a breakfast meeting of the county town's Chamber of Commerce.
He told more than 40 members who attended the meeting at Carluccio's in Brewery Square that businesses still faced a 'long hard slog' over the coming years but there were definitely encouraging signs of recovery in the nation's economy.
Mr Letwin said: "There was an enormous national problem that we had to deal with and there was no alternative but to try and get our national finances moving back into balance, and as we did so somehow or other survive this terrible shock then gradually we would find our way back into more health.
"That is broadly what I think is happening.
"The nation's finances are gradually being put back into order but it's a long, hard slog and it will take time."
Mr Letwin said despite the challenges facing the economy in recent years there had been some 'remarkable' achievements, with areas of the economy that were now thriving, including the car industry, aerospace, IT and biosciences.
He added that British firms and individuals were still showing the sense of entrepreneurship and innovation that enabled the nation to compete with other economies across the globe.
On a more local scale, Mr Letwin said he had seen more encouraging signs in West Dorset with a low rate of unemployment compared to the rest of the nation and a number of thriving businesses.
He said: "My impression is that all over West Dorset there is a very considerable amount of enterprise and quite considerable optimism and progress."
The politician was also full of praise for the Brewery Square development where the meeting was held and the way it had transformed the old brewery site.
He said: "This is an amazing thing that is going on here."
Headteacher at Sunninghill Preparatory School in Dorchester Andrew Roberts-Wray asked Mr Letwin if anything could be done to prevent the 'brain drain' of talented youngsters leaving West Dorset to seek employment elsewhere.
Mr Letwin replied: "There has always been a very large proportion of bright young people who leave West Dorset and go somewhere else in order to make their careers and I suspect there always will be.
"But there is also a considerable number of people who come into West Dorset or come back to West Dorset and actually the whole of that is a process which generates an awful lot of exchange of ideas, innovation and enthusiasm."