PMI week: UK headed for slight growth in Q1 2013

Services sector saves the day.

The all-sectors PMI for March, released today by Markit Economics, has risen slightly from 50.7 in February to 50.9. Taken with January's recent peak of 51.7, it indicates a low level of growth throughout the first quarter of 2013 – not enough to cheer about, but enough to ensure that the Chancellor doesn't have to face the embarrassing prospect of standing up in the House of Commons and confirming that he has steered the country to a triple dip recession.

The PMI posts a result above 50 when the indications are that there has been expansion in the economy, and the higher the number, the greater the expansion. With the results hovering very close to 50 for the last quarter, any expected growth is likely to be minuscule, and Markit's chief economist, Chris Williamson, says the data is "consistent with a mere 0.1% quarterly increase in GDP". The PMI results track GDP relatively well, but there are always fluctuations, and so for the final results we will have to wait until the first estimate from the ONS, in two week's time.

If we do see growth, it will likely come entirely from the service sector, which has recovered well from the dip at the end of last year. The same cannot be said for construction, which has been negative for almost all of the last year, and manufacturing, which boomed last winter but has recently begun to contract again:

 

Looking further afield, Williamson says that:

[0.1 per cent] is clearly a far from satisfactory pace of growth, although anecdotal evidence from survey contributors indicated that poor weather has caused disruptions to many businesses in recent months, meaning the underlying recovery trend is likely to be stronger than the recent data suggest. We would therefore expect to see faster economic growth in the second quarter, barring any surprises such as a further worsening of the eurozone crisis or further severe weather.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.