David Prosser: Is the official economic data built on straw?

Outlook After the dismal manufacturing figures on Wednesday, yesterday's construction data from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, which showed a pick-up in the sector in May, was very welcome. That construction is recovering from the sharp downturn in the first quarter is good news in itself, of course, but the improving data also helps the case of those in the industry who say the Office of National Statistics painted a picture of their performance in the first three months of the year that was far too pessimistic. That's to be welcomed: not out of any desire to see the ONS embarrassed, but because it may mean the economy is not performing as badly as thought.

The ONS's figures record Britain's construction industry as having contracted by 4.7 per cent during the first quarter, which one chief executive in the sector has described as "baloney" (firms were just as critical of the ONS's claim they grew 7 per cent in 2010). Construction industry bosses reckon there was actually a small rise in output, which is what you might expect following the stoppages caused by the bad weather in December. But even if the sector was simply flat, the ONS's GDP figure for the first quarter would have been 0.8 per cent rather than 0.5 per cent.