We’re on the right track, insists jubilant Cameron

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PRIME Minister David Cameron today hailed Britain’s emergence from double-dip recession as a sign that “we are on the right track, we have got the right approach”.

Mr Cameron acknowledged there was “a long road to travel”, but insisted that, on economic policy, “we have got to stick with the programme”.

He was speaking after the Office for National Statistics issued a preliminary estimate of GDP growth for the third quarter of 1% - outperforming City expectations.

The rise - helped by the impact of the Olympics and a bounceback after Diamond Jubilee bank holidays - is the largest quarterly increase since 2007, and means the UK has escaped its recession after three successive quarters of negative growth.

Speaking during a visit to a factory in south London, Mr Cameron said: “We still have a long way to go and there are still difficulties ahead, but I think these figures do show that we are on the right track, we have got the right approach.

“We can see that with unemployment falling, also with a quarter of the deficit paid down in the last two years. There is more to do but these figures are good progress.”

City experts had expected a GDP rise of 0.6%. The actual figure is the biggest increase since the third quarter of 2007.

The largest contribution to the surge came from the powerhouse services sector, which makes up around 75% of the total economy and grew at 1.3%, following a 0.1% drop in the previous quarter.

But the bounce-back was largely driven by one-off factors, the ONS warned, such as clawed-back activity lost to the extra bank holiday for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and a slight lift from the Olympics.

The figures are preliminary estimates and subject to revision.

Today’s estimate comes amid warnings from economists that the UK is far from out of the economic woods and can expect growth to slow in subsequent quarters.

But Chancellor George Osborne said the figures show that “we are on the right track”.

The third quarter had one more working day than the previous quarter, due to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which would have affected the estimate, the ONS said.

The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games are also likely to have impacted economic activity in the third quarter, the ONS added.

Olympic ticket sales alone increased GDP growth in the period by 0.2 percentage points, while the event is likely to have lifted a range of other services including employment agencies, creative arts, office administration, accommodation and food and beverages.

Industrial production increased by 1.1% between July and September, the ONS said, following a 0.7% decline in the previous quarter.

Manufacturing contributed the most to the increase in industrial production, followed by water and sewerage industries.

The construction sector remained under pressure in the third quarter, however, shrinking 2.5%, following a 3% drop in the previous quarter.

Within the services sector, the index of distribution, hotels and restaurants rose 1.6%, transport sector grew 0.8%, business services and finance increased 1% and government services lifted 1.6%.

The Chancellor said the UK still faced “many economic challenges at home and abroad”.

But he went on: “By continuing to take the tough decisions needed to deal with our debts and equip our economy for the global race we’re in, this Government is laying the foundations for lasting prosperity.”

The economy shrank 0.4% in the second quarter, confirming the double-dip recession as the longest since the 1950s.

The UK has been battling against sluggish consumer spending, Government cuts and high unemployment, while the struggling eurozone has hit exports.

Even though underlying growth is considered to be weak, analysts said the recovery had been helped by lower inflation, recent gains in employment and an edging up of earnings growth.

The economy is expected to continue growing in the fourth quarter from October to December but at a much slower rate, with predictions coming in around the 0.3% mark.

Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said removing the one-off factors, the figures still suggested underlying output managed to rise by a small amount, which is an improvement on recent quarters.

She said: “It won’t be plain sailing from now on, though. There are still a number of constraints on the recovery.

“And as the Olympic effects unwind, it is still possible that the economy contracts again in the fourth quarter.”

The economy has grown 0.3% so far this year but is still 3.1% below its peak in the first quarter of 2008.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “The economy is far from out of the woods, with further relapses highly possible in the face of still tough domestic and global - especially Eurozone - conditions.

“So it is premature for the Chancellor to contemplate singing in his bathtub.”