The UK's economic recovery hopes have been boosted by official figures revealed that the pace of growth accelerated faster than expected in the third quarter of 2011.
GDP increased by 0.5% in the three months to the end of September, representing an improvement on the 0.1% rise in the previous quarter, the Office for National Statistics revealed. Economists had predicted a figure of between 0.3% and 0.4%.
The figures will help ease some of the fears about the strength of the recovery after the economy effectively flatlined over the previous nine months.
However, the growth is still below its long-term average and economists warn the latest figures were flattered as GDP played catch-up after the previous quarter, which was hit by one-off factors such as the royal wedding.
The figures come as the Government rolls out a tough package of austerity measures and the eurozone - the UK's biggest export market - is in the grips of a potentially catastrophic debt crisis. Chancellor George Osborne has come under pressure to reassess his deficit-busting plan amid plummeting consumer confidence, spiralling inflation and high unemployment.
But the ONS said that the economy has grown by 0.6% over the previous two quarters, which gives a clearer picture of the underlying trends. This means the economy is growing at half the speed of long-term trends, which have seen it expand at an average of 0.6% a quarter in recent decades.
The third quarter was boosted by a strong performance from the powerhouse services sector, which rose 0.7%, compared with a rise of 0.2% in the previous quarter. The business services and finance sector recorded its strongest growth since the third quarter of 2007, particularly in office administration and business support services.
The growth in services, which represents some three-quarters of the economy, helped offset a 0.6% contraction in the construction industry after a rise of 1.1% in the previous quarter. Production industries, which include manufacturing and oil and gas production, also increased 0.5%, compared with a fall of 1.2% in the previous quarter.
The ONS said the riots in August did not have a noticeable effect on the overall GDP figure.
The second quarter was hit by the unusually warm spring, which caused households to turn off their heating early, disruption to the supply chain following the Japanese tsunami and the extra bank holiday for the royal wedding.