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GDP grew by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2013, according to preliminary estimate

By Peter Hoskin
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The triple-dip has been averted – for now. The Office for National Statistic’s preliminary estimate has the economy growing by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of this year. That’s higher than the popular forecast of 0.1. per cent, but it should be noted that some parts of the economy are doing better than others. The services sector grew by 0.6 per cent. Construction shrank by 2.5.

There are plenty of reasons not to get excited about these grand estimates. Chris Giles describes one of them well in today’s Financial Times: “The preliminary estimate of GDP is one of the least important official numbers. Since 2000, this initial figure has been revised by 0.4 percentage points on average.” And I described another in a recent post:

These economy-wide statistics and predictions may be important, but they’re often the only thing that we in Westminster talk about. It’s GDP this, and national debt that – and, all the while, some more unassuming numbers are neglected. It’s a reversal of that old saw: we can’t see the trees for the wood.”

Yet, as I suggested in my post about George Osborne on Tuesday, today’s growth figures are still politically significant. Far better for the Chancellor that he avoids another quarter of economic shrinkage, and that dreaded third technical recession. Ed Balls will have to restrain his bark and his bite.

Not that Mr Osborne’s political woes are over; far from it. Some Tory backbenchers will see today's figures as cause for cheer, but others will put a highlighter to the ONS’s judgement that the economy has been “broadly flat over the last 18 months”. For them, it’s all part of a bad news story that may continue with the local elections, and which they're becoming increasingly tired of.


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