Strong services data for July indicates health in the sector

The services PMI for July came in at 60.2.

Market Economics has released the purchasing managers' index data for the services sector in the month of July. It shows a sharp increase in activity in the sector, dominant in the UK economy: the index stands at 60.2, well above the 57.2 forecast. It is the best growth services have seen since 2006.

The PMI is compiled from data contributed by purchasing managers across Britain, and values of above 50 represent increasing growth in the sector, while values below represent increasing contraction. A value of 60.2 thus represents extremely strong growth for the services sector; and, given the strength of that sector in the national economy, bodes well for overall growth in the third quarter of 2013.

The below chart shows quite how high the reading was, and also how well the PMI data – an incomplete but speedy measure based on survey data – tracks the ONS's official estimate of the sector.

Today's release follows that of the PMIs for the construction and manufacturing sectors, each similarly strong. The former came in at 57.0, up from 51.0 in June, while the latter came in at 54.6, up from 52.9 the month before. Both of those figures represent the fastest growth in their sectors for years, and indicated that the slump is well and truly coming to an end. Markit's chief economist, Paul Smith, says that the service sector "appears to have genuine momentum". "Although an early call on one month's data," he adds, "the forward-looking elements from the survey point to a further strengthening of GDP in Q3 as the UK heads towards 'escape velocity' and self-sustaining economic expansion."

Those forward-looking elements include measures of backlogs in orders, as well as questions of business confidence. Backlogs, which indicate pressure on companies to expand their production, had the sharpest rise since February 2000, and have now risen four months in a row. Business confidence also strengthened, to its highest level for over a year, although that still leaves it well below even the burst in optimism immediately following the recession, let alone the typical sensibility in the mid-2000s.

The pound saw a slight boost following the release of the news, rising against the dollar from 1.532 to 1.535.

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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.