By Ian McConnell

THE economy in Scotland achieved modest growth in the fourth quarter of last year ahead of the coronavirus crisis, in contrast to stagnation in the UK as a whole during the same period, official figures show.

However, over 2019 as a whole, growth in Scotland trailed UK-wide expansion.

Figures published yesterday by the Scottish Government show gross domestic product north of the Border grew by 0.2 per cent in the final three months of 2019, the last full quarter before the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak is reflected in the economic output data.

UK GDP was flat quarter-on-quarter in the final three months of last year, as uncertainty over Brexit dampened activity.

Growth in Scotland in the final three months of 2019 was driven by 0.5% quarter-on-quarter expansion in the services sector.

The construction sector grew by 0.7% but manufacturing output contracted by 1%.

Scottish GDP grew by 0.8% over 2019 as a whole, well adrift of corresponding UK-wide expansion of 1.4%, which was itself weak by historical standards. Scotland’s services sector grew by 1% during 2019.

The Scottish GDP figures do not include the output of offshore oil and gas extraction.

Scottish Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The growth in the economy in 2019, although modest, is welcome.”

However, she added: “We are living in unprecedented times and I am acutely aware that Covid-19 is already having challenging implications for businesses the length and breadth of the country.”

“That is why we have moved quickly to provide a £320 million package of support for the business community. Businesses receiving support are being encouraged to operate with fair work principles, including supporting staff to self-isolate when they need to and if they have caring responsibilities.”

Surveys for the UK private-sector economy had indicated a return to modest growth in the opening two months of this year, before the country found itself in the grip of the coronavirus crisis.