Chancellor: Economy is healing
Chancellor George Osborne insisted the economy is "healing" as official figures revealed Britain dodged a much-feared triple-dip recession with growth of 0.3% in the first three months of the year.
A strong showing from the services sector and surging demand for energy as households ramped up their heating offset some of the impact of the snow at the start of the year, helping the UK pull back from the brink of its third recession since 2008.
The figure will relieve some of the pressure on Mr Osborne to rethink his austerity policy, following recent warnings from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and last week's move by rating agency Fitch to strip the UK of its AAA rating.
But the better-than-expected growth in gross domestic product (GDP) did little to ease fears that the economy is flat-lining, with economists warning the bounce back was relatively "feeble" given the drop at the end of last year.
Mr Osborne said: "Today's figures are an encouraging sign the economy is healing. Despite a tough economic backdrop, we are making progress. We all know there are no easy answers to problems built up over many years, and I can't promise the road ahead will always be smooth, but by continuing to confront our problems head on Britain is recovering and we are building an economy fit for the future."
The pound rose sharply after the gross domestic product (GDP) data, gaining 1% against the US dollar. But some economists urged caution over the figures. Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), said: "We are in danger of meagre growth becoming the new normal."
The first estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) comes after a 0.3% contraction in the final quarter of 2012, which had left the economy under threat of a triple-dip. Another quarter of falling output would have seen the UK enter a technical recession.
Most economists had been expecting growth of just 0.1%, although Rob Carnell at ING Bank cautioned the first estimate is based on "scant real data".
The ONS said the powerhouse services sector - which accounts for more than three quarters of GDP - grew by 0.6% between January and March, driven by 1.1% growth in the retail, hotels and restaurant trades sector. There was also a strong boost from transport, storage and communications, which saw growth of 1.4%.
But fears remain over the strength of the recovery, with key sectors such as construction and manufacturing still well below the peak in 2008. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the coalition Government had overseen the "slowest recovery for over 100 years" and called for "urgent action to kick-start our economy".