Recession fears as economy shrinks
The UK is staring down the barrel of another recession after the economy shrank more than expected at the end of last year.
Declines in the manufacturing and construction sectors drove a 0.2% fall in GDP in the final quarter of 2011, according to an initial estimate by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The performance was described by Prime Minister David Cameron as disappointing, while Chancellor George Osborne pledged to stick to the coalition government's austerity programme, which has been attacked for choking off the recovery.
Mr Osborne insisted: "Britain has substantial debts. If we don't deal with those debts, our problems will be worse."
However, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber warned that unless the Government started focusing on jobs and growth, it could preside over a decade of economic stagnation. "The grand austerity plan is failing to tackle the deficit, causing unemployment to spiral out of control, and is now dragging the country back towards recession, " he said.
With the eurozone weighing on global growth prospects, economists predict further GDP declines for the first half of 2012, raising the prospect of another recession - two successive quarters of contraction.
But most experts think the latest downturn will be mild compared with the slump of 2008/09, when output dropped by more than 7%.
Graeme Leach, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: "We've taken one step towards a double-dip recession, and it's now probably 50-50 as to whether we'll take the second. But even if output does increase in the current quarter, we'll continue to experience the feel-bad jobless recovery for some time yet."
The figures marked the first contraction in the economy since the final quarter of 2010, when Arctic weather caused mayhem, and is also a drastic deterioration on the 0.6% growth seen in the previous quarter. Over the course of 2011 as a whole, GDP increased by 0.9%, much slower than the 2.1% growth in 2010.
The fall in the final quarter, which was worse than City expectations of a decline of 0.1%, was partly caused by a 0.9% contraction in manufacturing as weak consumer spending depressed demand in the UK, while the eurozone debt crisis hit exports.