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ONS reports 0.5 per cent UK economic growth for first quarter

Figures suggest Bank of England's interest rates will remain unchanged.

In its third projection, the Office for National Statistics reported that the UK economy expanded by 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2011.

The growth was offset by a 0.6 per cent fall in consumer spending during the same time period. This is the greatest decrease since the second quarter of 2009.

In this third estimate, construction output was revised upwards while manufacturing was revised downward.

Investec analyst Philip Shaw said, "There is nothing that is too surprising [in these figures]."

Shaw believes economic issues outside the UK are currently the most important factors regarding the state's economic future.

He expressed the importance of ensuring that Greece's financial crisis is "sorted out in an orderly manner" and the necessity of an increase in US economic growth.

Shaw said these figures from the ONS suggest the Bank of England's interest rates will remain at 0.5 per cent for the time being.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.