SCOTLAND’S economy grew at less than half the rate of the wider UK last year, new figures show.

Growth increased in the last three months of 2017, but continued to lag behind the rest of the UK.

Critics said the significant gap was “increasingly concerning” and insisted SNP ministers were failing to keep pace with the wider country.

Scottish Government figures show a rise in GDP of 0.3 per cent from October to December, up from 0.2 per cent the previous quarter.

But growth in Scotland lagged slightly behind the 0.4 per cent rise in GDP seen across the UK in the final quarter of last year.

Ecnomist John McLaren: 'If the UK had suffered Scotland's abject economic growth, there would be uproar'

And while Scotland’s annual GDP growth last year was 0.8 per cent higher than the previous 12 months, this was dwarfed by growth of 1.8 per cent in the UK over the same period.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said it was "increasingly concerning that a significant gap persists between Scotland's economy and the rest of the UK".

He added: "The Scottish Government has the powers to boost productivity and strengthen the economy, and must use them to close this gap.

“By making Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK, the Scottish Government risks damaging, rather than growing, our economy.”

Dr Stuart McIntyre of the University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute said a sharp decline in the construction sector – which was down 2.6 per cent on a quarterly basis – was “largely responsible for dragging headline growth down”.

He said: “This continues a trend of weakness in the construction sector in recent times. Activity in the construction sector is now down 6.5 per cent relative to the same period in 2016.”

But he said that while headline growth in the Scottish economy “remains a significant concern”, other sectors showed strong growth – including electricity and gas, which boomed by 9.5 per cent.

Change in gross domestic product (GDP) is the main indicator of economic growth in Scotland.

Ecnomist John McLaren: 'If the UK had suffered Scotland's abject economic growth, there would be uproar'

GDP for the last three months of 2017 was 1.1 per cent higher than it was in the same period of 2016, according to the data.

In the most recent quarter the services sector – which makes up about 75 per cent of Scotland's economy – grew by 0.5 per cent, while output in the production sector was up by 0.9 per cent.

Scottish employability minister Jamie Hepburn insisted the foundations of the economy remained strong – and said he would “caution against drawing any conclusion that we are significantly behind the rest of the UK”.

He said the downturn in construction was partly due to large projects, such as the £1.35 billion Queensferry Crossing, coming to an end.

He said: "These figures are welcome, but we are determined to do more to grow our economy and protect Scotland from the headwinds of Brexit.

"As we face the potential impact of Brexit to come, the Scottish Government is determined to protect Scotland's economy and ensure our potential is not derailed by damaging decisions of the UK Government."

But Scottish Liberal Democrats economy spokeswoman Carolyn Caddick branded the figures “pathetic”, adding: "People will be disappointed that for all their speeches SNP ministers have not been able to keep pace with the growth in the rest of the UK. UK growth itself is pretty pathetic."

Ecnomist John McLaren: 'If the UK had suffered Scotland's abject economic growth, there would be uproar'

Scottish Labour's economy spokesperson Jackie Baillie said any growth was welcome, but added: “Yet again, these figures expose how Scotland’s pitiful economic growth under the SNP is low and slow.

“Scotland’s economy is still lagging far behind the rest of the UK, while the continued contraction in the construction sector is a particular concern.

“Scotland deserves better than SNP ministers content to put their fingers in their ears, do nothing and blame bad economic performance on Brexit.”