UK private sector growing at fastest rate since 2013 as shops reopen, surveys indicate

Ben Chapman
·2-min read
<p>Services businesses reported growth in the first weeks of April which saw pubs and non-essential shops reopen in England</p> (PA)

Services businesses reported growth in the first weeks of April which saw pubs and non-essential shops reopen in England


The UK’s private sector is growing at its fastest rate since 2013 as businesses reported a flood of new orders in April, according to a regular survey which provides an early sign of the future health of the economy.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose from 56.4 in March to 60 in the first weeks of April, when lockdown restrictions eased and non-essential shops were allowed to reopen in England.

The poll asks companies about the orders they’ve received and their confidence in the outlook for their business. A reading above 50 points to growth.

“Companies are reporting a surge in demand for both goods and services as the economy opens up from lockdowns and the encouraging vaccine rollout adds to a brighter outlook,” said Chris Williamson at IHS Markit, which helps compile the survey.

“In more than 23 years of PMI history, we have only seen one spell of faster growth than this, recorded between August and November 2013.”

The positive data was boosted by services businesses, many of which began to reopen this month after an extended closure. Businesses in all of the main sectors of the economy reported growth.

The data also indicated further improvement in the jobs market with a steep increase in the rate at which companies are creating new roles.

Separate figures showed that retailers had already received an unexpected boost before lockdown started to ease. Shoppers stocking up on new outfits helped to boost retail sales.

Shoppers spent 7.3 per cent more in March than in the same month a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics revealed.

Sales were up 5.5 per cent compared with February and were higher than pre-pandemic levels, despite non-essential shops remaining closed.

Clothes sales jumped 17.5 per cent as people prepared for the gradual ending of Covid restrictions.

Dean Turner, economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, said: “With all sectors showing an improvement relative to March, we believe this points to further strength in the economy in the months ahead.

“As today’s retail sales numbers signal, consumers and firms stand ready to unleash some of the pent-up demand which has been accumulated in recent months.”

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