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Output back above pre-recession peak

SCOTTISH economic output is back above its peak ahead of the Great Recession of 2008/09, having grown strongly in the first quarter of this year and reached this landmark before the UK as a whole, official figures have revealed.

The Scottish Government said yesterday gross domestic product north of the Border had risen one per cent quarter-on-quarter during the opening three months of 2014.

This increase, driven by a surge in manufacturing output and supported by strong growth in the dominant services sector, meant Scottish GDP in the first three months of this year was 0.4 per cent greater than its previous peak in the second quarter of 2008, and thus at a record level.

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The Scottish Government noted UK GDP in the first quarter of this year was 0.6 per cent below its pre-recession peak. UK GDP grew by 0.8 per cent quarter-on-quarter in the opening three months of this year.

While welcoming the strong first-quarter GDP figures for Scotland, leading economist Jeremy Peat was at pains to emphasise the context.

Mr Peat, visiting professor at Strathclyde University's International Public Policy Institute, said: "I think, basically, it is encouraging. It is good to see manufacturing and the production industries and services all growing and obviously it is a point to note that we are now back above the previous peak. But we are well below where we would have been if there hadn't been a recession, so we shouldn't turn cartwheels yet...before we can be assured of strong and sustainable growth."

He added: "I would like to see good data for business investment and exports, and that is something we have yet to see coming through strongly, at either the UK or the Scottish level."

Mr Peat also highlighted the volatile nature of the Scottish GDP data.

He said: "Just one quarter doesn't tell you the whole story, so let's hope we get this sustained through the next two or three quarters and we get investment and exports picking up."

The Scottish Government figures show a 3.4 per cent quarter-on-quarter surge in manufacturing output north of the Border in the first quarter. Within manufacturing, output of the refined petroleum, chemical and pharmaceutical products sector surged 14.1 per cent quarter-on-quarter in the opening three months of this year. It had tumbled 8.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of last year, with the temporary closure in October 2013 of the Grangemouth refinery and petrochemical complex having an impact.

While acknowledging the Grangemouth effect, the Scottish Government said yesterday: "Users [of the GDP statistics] should exercise caution in attributing all of the growth in the latest quarter in the sector to growth in refined petroleum and chemicals following the suppressed output last quarter.

"Output of other producers of chemical and pharmaceutical products also contribute to the latest quarter's position."

Elsewhere in manufacturing, output in the transport equipment category climbed by 4.6 per cent quarter-on-quarter in the opening three months of 2014. And output in the computer, electrical and optical products category climbed by 2.5 per cent in the first quarter.

However, output in the food, beverages and tobacco category dipped by 0.2 per cent.

The Scottish Government figures show the services sector north of the Border grew 0.9 per cent quarter-on-quarter in the opening three months of this year. Construction output tumbled by one per cent in the first quarter but was up 7.6 per cent on the opening three months of last year.

Scottish GDP in the first quarter was up by 2.6 per cent on the opening three months of last year.

This was slightly adrift of a three per cent year-on-year increase in GDP in the UK as a whole in the first quarter.

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