Britain’s economic rebound slowed in May, according to official data which raised questions about the intensity of the bounce-back from coronavirus lockdowns and showed the country’s car makers struggling with a global shortage of microchips.
Reuters poll of economists had pointed to month-on-month growth of 1.5pc in gross domestic product and sterling fell slightly after the figures were published
The Office for National Statistics also revised down its figure for growth in April to 2pc from its previous estimate of 2.3pc – reflecting a reduced contribution from Covid testing services – although the estimate for March was increased.
The Bank of England expects Britain’s economy to grow by 7.25pc this year, the fastest annual growth since 1941 when Britain was rearming during World War Two. Last year output plunged by almost 10pc, the biggest drop in more than 300 years.
April saw the easing of restrictions for non-essential retailers, hairdressers and pubs and restaurants that could serve customers outside. In May, hospitality firms were allowed to resume indoor service.
“The sharp slowdown in growth suggests that the recovery is losing a little steam as the temporary boost, from the earlier phases of reopening, fades,” Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chamber of Commerce, said.
Despite the slowdown in May, the 0.8pc growth rate was faster than typical pre-pandemic, month-on-month rises in GDP.
Britain’s dominant services sector grew by 0.9pc from April, including a huge 37.1pc monthly jump for accommodation and food services.
Industrial output grew by 0.8pc while construction output contracted by 0.8pc from April, hit by the fourth-rainiest May since 1862. The chip shortage affecting carmakers led to the biggest fall in their output since April 2020, the ONS said.
Britain’s economy grew each month between February and May, but GDP was still 3.1pc smaller at the end of May than it was in February 2020, before the pandemic struck the country.
Compared with May last year, when the country was grappling to come to terms with its first coronavirus lockdown, GDP was up by nearly 25pc, the ONS said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift most of the last restrictions from a third lockdown on July 19 after a fast rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations.
New cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus have accelerated in recent weeks but private-sector data and surveys covering that period suggest no major hit to hiring or consumer behaviour in late June and early July.
The ONS said publication of trade figures, which should have been released with the GDP data, had been delayed until 11:00 GMT.