ONS blames civil service strikes for ‘flatlining’ economic growth

Public sector industrial action offsets boosts in construction and retail sectors, data shows
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By Jim Dunton

13 Apr 2023

The Office for National Statistics has said strike action by departmental officials and education professionals contributed to flatlining economic growth in February, confirmed by just-published data.

It said that the UK economy recorded 0.0% growth in the month, with the construction sector rising 2.4% but services falling 0.1% and production falling 0.2%. Growth in January was 0.4%.

Services had grown by 0.7% in January. The ONS said the “largest contributions” to the sector’s fall in February output came from education, public administration, defence, and compulsory social security, where industrial action took place.

Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said the picture for the month was one of sectors pulling in different directions.

“The economy saw no growth in February overall,” he said. “Construction grew strongly after a poor January, with increased repair work taking place. There was also a boost from retailing, with many shops having a buoyant month.

“These were offset by the effects of civil service and teachers’ strike action, which impacted the public sector, and unseasonably mild weather led to falls in the use of electricity and gas.”

While monthly GDP growth was flat, the ONS said GDP had grown by 0.1% in the three months to February, compared with the three months to November 2022. Over the quarter, services grew by 0.1% and construction grew by 0.9% but production fell by 0.1%.

February 2023’s GDP was 0.5% higher than that in February 2022.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the quarterly figures suggested the UK’s economic outlook is “brighter than expected” and that the nation is “set to avoid recession”.

Today is the final day of the four-day junior doctors’ strike. Industrial action is also taking place at HM Passport Office, the Animal and Plant Health Agency today.

A third national one-day civil service strike in support of the PCS union’s 10% pay demand is due to be held on 28 April.

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