GDP growth falls to lowest for two years

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The economy expanded by half a per cent in the third quarter, according to the Government's preliminary estimate of GDP. This brought the annual rate of growth down to 2.4 per cent, around the long-term trend but the lowest for over two years.

The Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, said the figures showed that growth had "slowed down to a more sustainable level". But Andrew Smith, shadow chief secretary, said they reflected "the fragile state of the Conservatives' low-investment, high-unemployment economy."

The increase in GDP, which met City expectations, was led by the services sector, which was estimated to have grown by 0.7 per cent compared with the second quarter. Industrial output showed some growth but continued to lag behind.

The construction industry remained the black spot. Early estimates suggested that output declined for the third quarter in succession.

Growth in the service industries was strong in transport and communications, at around 1 per cent, the same as in the first two quarters. For the first time since it began, the Lottery did not contribute to growth.The distribution, hotels and catering sector grew by 0.6 per cent.