By Jonathan Davies

The rate of growth in the UK economy slowed to 0.3% in the first quarter of 2015, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It compares to growth of 0.6% in the final quarter of 2014. It falls below widespread expectations of 0.5% and marks the slowest economic growth since the final quarter of 2012.

The services sector, which accounts for roughly 70% of UK GDP, grew by 0.5%. But output in the construction industry fell 1.6%.

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Slowing growth will likely come as a blow to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats ahead of the general election. With just nine days to go, both parties have shouted about the performance of the economy as a reason to vote for them.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the figures are a "reminder of the fragility of recovery". He said: "Our economy is growing, but you cannot take things for granted. When you see a softening of growth in other parts of the world, you see instability and insecurity in Europe, you see the continuation of the Greek crisis. What it shows is we've got growth in Britain, that's good, our growth record is now a strong one. You shouldn't take too much on one quarter's figures."

The figures are preliminary, and the ONS does tend to revise preliminary figures - more often than not increasing them.

Looking at growth on an annual basis, the ONS said the UK economy is 2.4% larger than during the first quarter of 2014.

ONS chief economist Joe Grice said: "The economy expanded a little more slowly in the first quarter of 2015 than we've seen in the past two years and that's largely due to the services sector, where growth has eased to 0.5%.

"In addition, there has been a further fall in construction output that itself takes around 0.1% off the GDP growth rate. But, as always, we warn against reading too much into one quarter's figures."

John Cridland, CBI Director General, said: “Growth slowed but checking the temperature with our members and surveys hints that the economy is more resilient than these figures might suggest. Prospects for this year remain bright, with lower oil prices and inflation continuing to support growth, despite challenges for the North Sea industry.

“But a strengthening pound means manufacturers are fighting a loss of competitiveness in the euro area, threatening to knock our exports performance.

Jeremy Cook, chief economist at the international payments company, World First, said: “Q1 should have seen stronger household consumption, with lower energy and fuel bills helping the pockets of average consumers. Wages are rising in real terms and unemployment is falling. To have the slowest level of service sector growth in over 2.5 years is quite confusing.”

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