Surprise growth for service providers

The service sector saw 'surprisingly buoyant' business conditions in December, according to the latest figures from Markit/CIPs.

The figures show that activity and new business within the industry grew at the strongest rates since July.

The headline index from the survey posted a five month high of 54.0 in December, up from 52.1 in November, and boosting the gap above the benchmark of 50, which separates growth from contraction.

Commenting on the figures, Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit said: ""The December survey rounds off a reasonable fourth quarter for the service sector, which is likely to again provide the main stimulus to overall economic growth. Services are likely to have expanded by around 0.3%-0.4% in the final quarter, down from 0.7% in the third quarter but offsetting a renewed downturn in manufacturing and sluggish growth of construction to help the UK avoid a slide back into recession, at least for now."

The survey also found that business confidence remains low among service providers, as growth expectations slip and anxiety grows over the Eurozone crisis and austerity measures.

Williamson adds: "Uncertainty remains unusually high, and companies look to be hunkering down for a tough year in 2012. However, the upturn in services activity in December provides some encouraging news that the UK economy is showing some resilience among the many headwinds that it is currently facing."