Resurgent private sector behind 0.5% quarterly growth
The UK's economic recovery will consolidate as consumer confidence and private spending are matched with greater business investment, an economist said.
Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan spoke as statistics revealed the UK economy has grown by a slower-than-expected 0.8% in the first quarter of this year.
Figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that the economy is still on the cusp of surpassing its pre-crisis peak.
Gross domestic product (GDP) had been expected to grow by 0.9% but was dragged down by contractions in mining and other production activity. However, manufacturing grew by 1.3%, its strongest quarter for nearly four years, bolstering hopes for a re-balancing in the recovery away from its reliance on consumer spending.
Commenting on the latest GDP statistics, Ms McGowan said: "These latest statistics reflect another solid quarterly economic performance in the UK, making George Osborne's pre-election year a whole lot easier.
"Northern Ireland's economy is estimated to have grown during the first quarter of this year – albeit by a smaller amount (0.5%). In the course of this year, the majority of local sectors are forecast to grow by 2% or more.
"Consumer confidence is up significantly and the business surveys are improving too – but ultimately the growth is happening in the private sector and for Northern Ireland that sector is not yet large enough."
The UK has been struggling to return to its previous levels of activity since it plunged into recession six years ago.
The overall size of the economy in the first quarter was just 0.6% below the level where it last peaked in early 2008, meaning it looks likely to return to this level during the current quarter.
Chancellor George Osborne said: "The figures show that Britain is coming back – but we can't take that for granted. We have to carry on working through our long-term economic plan."