By Max Clarke

This morning saw confirmation from the Office for National Statistics that the UK had avoided a feared return to recession by posting a 0.5% growth in the UK’s GDP.

While the marginal boost of just half a percent will do little more than negate the previous quarter’s decline, some have interpreted it as a sign of more growth to come, while still others deem the paltry figure proof that the Coalition’s cuts policy is not working.

Following are various comments from economists, business representatives and union leaders:

Dave Prentis, general secretary of public sector union, UNISON said:

"Here is yet more proof that Tory policies are the wrong prescription for our economy. Crossing true blue fingers, and hoping that the private sector will ride to our rescue is economic child's play. Growth has now stood still for six months.

"We are nowhere near out of the woods yet. This flat economic course could dip again after the tsunami of spending cuts and job losses hit the public sector. The Tories need to change tack, shelving the hard and fast cuts, and plotting a fairer course to recovery. This must include getting control of the city - where bumper bonuses have simply been replaced by big pay increases.

John Cridland, Director-General of prominent business organisation the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), said:

“We are seeing a modest rebound in economic growth, recouping the loss in output caused by the bad weather in the fourth quarter of last year. Growth of 0.5% in the first quarter is in line with our expectations and, while encouraging, it does reaffirm our view that the recovery remains slow and sluggish.

“The main reason the growth figures were not stronger is the contraction in construction, with the overhang into January from the bad weather. February’s construction figures show some recovery.”

“An increase of 0.5% is as good as we might have hoped for,” said Phil Orford, chief executive of the Forum for Private Business in a plea for a ‘two pronged’ plan to boost growth.

He continued, “and it’s reassuring to know we haven’t returned to recession. However, it doesn’t indicate any great surge of economic activity, and it won’t dramatically increase confidence in the small business sector.

“If we want to see some real growth next quarter, we need some radical and immediate measures from the Government which will tangibly improve conditions for smaller businesses on the ground.

“If smaller companies are to foster a genuine and meaningful recovery, they need to be freed from costly and time-consuming red tape, benefit from a simpler and more sympathetic tax system, and see the soaring costs of essentials like fuel and utilities tackled.

“This in turn should help to bring about the second thing we need to see — a significant increase in business and consumer confidence. Of course, the UK economy isn’t performing brilliantly at present but it could be a lot worse and maintaining confidence is essential if we want to help smaller businesses drive economic recovery.”

And noting that, with the previous quarter’s contraction, the 6 month net gain for the economy has been stagnation, Jeremy Cook, chief economist at World First foreign exchange said:

“It’s growth Jim but not as we know it. This figure makes up for the poor 4th quarter, but to all intents and purposes it means that the UK has not grown an iota in the past 6 months.

“We have seen bounce backs in transport, since the destruction caused by the winter snow, while the service sector and manufacturing remain buoyant.

“The main laggard has been construction, although mortgage approvals published at the same time as today’s GDP release show that they have risen for the 3rd month in a row.

“Sterling has rallied sharply after the announcement as it seems that traders were betting heavily on a below consensus number and we expect it to continue gains through next week…”

Also commenting on the GDP figures is Ian Brinkley, director of socio-economic programmes at The Work Foundation:

“Underlying economic growth is flat — the gain in output in the first quarter of 2011 exactly balances the loss of output due to bad weather in the last quarter of 2010. This will affect job creation over the next few months, making any hope of an early reduction in unemployment remote.

“The good news is that manufacturing is doing well, and knowledge intensive high value business services and telecommunications showed signs of renewed growth — and these are the key sectors that will have to drive this recovery.

“The bad news is that construction is in freefall, traditional services such as retailing are very weak, and the economic impact of cuts in public services is still to come. We will need to see the manufacturing boom sustained and much stronger growth in private services if the economy as a whole is to escape the trap of a long period of below average growth.”