Growth figure fuels recovery fears
Fears over the strength of Britain's economic recovery have been fuelled after new figures showed only a tepid turnaround from the snow-bound end to 2010.
Gross domestic product (GDP) - a broad measure for the total economy - grew by 0.5% between January and March, reversing a shock decline of 0.5% in the final quarter of 2010, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
But while the UK has escaped a double-dip recession, the ONS warned underlying growth was broadly flat and the economy has made no progress since the third quarter of 2010.
Chancellor George Osborne said the figures are "good news" - pointing to a pick-up in manufacturing output - and will reinforce the Government's determination to press ahead with its cuts strategy for tackling the deficit.
In the Commons, however, Labour leader Ed Miliband clashed with David Cameron, accusing ministers of "extraordinary complacency". The Prime Minister retorted that the Opposition is "talking the economy down".
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the figures revealed an economy that has been "flatlining" since the autumn, adding: "George Osborne is in such denial he thinks this is on track when everybody else can see that he has taken the economy into the ditch. As a Chancellor, he is now looking increasingly out of his depth."
Mr Osborne however pointed to the strength of the manufacturing sector, in contrast to the "unbalanced" economic performance of recent years when it had not done well. He said that new jobs are being created while Government borrowing is down.
"Of course, around the world we are facing some choppy economic conditions - a big rise in the oil price in recent months. You see countries dealing with very high budget deficits, and we've got one of the highest," he said. "But I think that reinforces our determination to stick to the course, and the economy is growing and that's good news."
The overall performance was dragged down by a lacklustre construction sector, which industry experts said was suffering at the hands of low confidence in the economic outlook.
Analysts said the stagnant economy made an imminent interest rate hike a "tough proposition" as the Bank of England juggles the problems of soaring inflation and weak growth.