Growth in the first quarter of 2011 was led by government spending, transport, and financial and business services. These contributed 0.2%, 0.2% and 0.3% respectively to the GDP growth figure. This was offset by a loss of 0.3% from construction, with 0.1% growth coming from others. Whilst manufacturing continued some advance, mining and quarrying fell.
So what does this tell us about the state of the UK economy? The government can point to the fact that the economy grew 0.5% in the last quarter, and 1.8% over the last year. The opposition point to the absence of growth in the last six months.
Many who accept the spin will find it surprising that government made a contribution to the growth in the totals owing to increased spending. For the year as a whole government was up 1.4% after allowing for inflation, or 5.1% in cash terms for total current spending.
Over the last year all parts of the economy with the exception of mining and quarrying contributed to the growth.
The sharp falls in construction output are not surprising. Outside London there is plenty of empty retail and commercial space. Banks are reluctant to made large advances for new property developments, and are busily trying to work their way out of some of the high cost positions in property they supported in the credit bubble. Housing volumes are well down, as a result of much less mortgage availability and the requirement for higher deposits. People find current house prices are still high relative to incomes, when banks are more cautious about how big a loan they will advance.
Manufacturing has had a good year with reasonable growth in each quarter. However, because manufacturing is a relatively small part of our economy after the big decline of recent years, it has not made a huge contribution to overall growth. It has added 0.1% to each of the last three quarters, and 0.2% in both the first and second quarters of 2010 during the recovery phase from the large recession it experienced in 2009.
In order to hit the more taxing forecasts for growth made by the OBR for 2012 onwards the service sector and private consumption are going to have to pick up speed as well as manufacturing continuing its revival. Growth over the last year is a little down on the OBR forecast, which means to hit the 5 year plan the government’s growth strategy needs to speed up growth a bit more. The government needs to press on with its reform of the banks to ensure reasonable levels of credit for good projects, and needs to set a betetr tax and regulatory framework to make busienss investment more worthwhile.