Growth in the UK's services sector slumped to its slowest pace in over three years in April, according to a closely watched survey.
The Markit/CIPS services purchasing managers index (PMI) fell from 53.7 to 52.3 in April. Any figure above 50 indicates growth in the sector, but it was PMI score since February 2013.
The services sector accounts for roughly 75% of the UK's entire economy - meaning a slowdown in the sector usually results in weaker economic growth.
Although new business growth picked up slightly during the month, it remained relatively subdued and business optimism was the joint-weakest in over three years, Markit said.
The survey showed that the uncertainty surrounding the EU referendum was once again the reason behind the slowdown. Firms commented on prevailing economic uncertainty, partly linked to the forthcoming referendum on EU membership. The latest survey data also signalled the strongest upward pressure on input prices since January 2014, linked to the introduction of the national living wage.
Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said: "The slowdown in the service sector follows similar weakness in manufacturing and construction to make a triple whammy of disappointing news on the health of the economy at the start of the second quarter. The PMI surveys are collectively indicating a near stalling of economic growth, down from 0.4% in the first quarter to just 0.1% in April. Some of the slowdown may be attributable to the early timing of Easter, though April also saw an increase in the number of companies reporting that uncertainty about the EU referendum caused customers to hold back on purchases."
He added: “Some of the slowdown may be attributable to the early timing of Easter, though April also saw an increase in the number of companies reporting that uncertainty about the EU referendum caused customers to hold back on purchases, exacerbating already-weak demand linked to global growth jitters and ongoing government spending cuts."