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Indoor reopening drives economic rebound in May but growth stalls

·3-min read
A man carries drinks in a pub (PA Wire)
A man carries drinks in a pub (PA Wire)

The UK economy rebounded further in May following the latest easing of lockdown restrictions but recorded a slowdown in growth, new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said gross domestic product (GDP) – a measure of economic growth – grew by 0.8% in May, as it slowed from a 2.3% rise in April.

Analysts had predicted the economy would report a 1.5% increase for the month.

The ONS added that GDP has still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with the reading 3.1% lower than in February 2020.

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May’s economic growth was largely driven by the services sector, which reported 0.9% growth after a raft of hospitality, leisure and arts firms were able to reopen due to the relaxation of restrictions on May 17.

The accommodation and food services sector was particularly buoyant, reporting a 37.1% improvement against April as customers returned to venues and booked domestic holidays again.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS, said: “The economy grew for the fourth consecutive month, albeit at a slower pace than seen recently, but remains around 3% below its pre-pandemic peak.

“Pubs and restaurants, who were again able to welcome indoor guests, were responsible for the vast majority of the growth seen in May.

“Hotels also saw a marked recovery as restrictions lifted.”

The latest figures also revealed a return to growth for the production sector, at 0.8%, as it was boosted by adverse May weather which drove higher output in electricity, gas and air supply.

Meanwhile, the construction sector slipped for a second consecutive month, falling by 0.8%, but remains slightly above pre-pandemic levels.

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The ONS also said that car production suffered its biggest fall since the UK was first hit by lockdown measures last year.

It said a shortage of microchips affected the sector, with output in the manufacture of transport equipment declining by 16.5% for the month.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “It’s great to see people back out and about thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout, and to see that reflected in today’s figures for economic growth.

“Our unprecedented package of support – including business loans, the furlough scheme and a reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality and tourism sectors – has protected millions of jobs and helped businesses survive the pandemic.”

Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson said: “After causing the UK to experience the worst economic crisis in the G7, the Conservatives should be getting the economy powering on all cylinders.

“Instead, this morning’s growth data shows how fragile the UK’s economic recovery is.”

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