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By Peter Hoskin
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GRAph 1

The
triple-dip has been averted – for now. The Office for National Statistic’s preliminary estimate
has the economy growing by 0.3 per cent in the first quarter of this year. That’s
higher than the popular forecast of 0.1. per cent, but it should be noted that
some parts of the economy are doing better than others. The services sector
grew by 0.6 per cent. Construction shrank by 2.5.

There
are plenty of reasons not to get excited about these grand estimates. Chris
Giles describes one of them well in
today’s Financial Times
: “The preliminary estimate of GDP is one of the
least important official numbers. Since 2000, this initial figure has been
revised by 0.4 percentage points on average.” And I described another in a recent
post
:

These
economy-wide statistics and predictions may be important, but they’re often the
only thing that we in Westminster talk about. It’s GDP this, and national debt
that – and, all the while, some more unassuming numbers are neglected. It’s a
reversal of that old saw: we can’t see the trees for the wood.”

Yet, as I suggested in
my post
about George Osborne
on Tuesday, today’s growth figures are still politically
significant. Far better for the Chancellor that he avoids another quarter of
economic shrinkage, and that dreaded third technical recession. Ed Balls will
have to restrain his bark and his bite.

Not that Mr Osborne’s
political woes are over; far from it. Some Tory backbenchers will see today's figures as cause for cheer, but others will put a
highlighter to the ONS’s judgement that the economy has been “broadly flat over
the last 18 months”. For them, it’s all part of a bad news story that may
continue with the local elections, and which they're becoming increasingly tired of.

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