THE economy grew by a slower-than-expected 0.8 per cent in the first quarter of this year but is still on the cusp of surpassing its pre-crisis peak, official figures showed today.

Gross domestic product (GDP) had been expected to grow by 0.9 per cent but was dragged down by contractions in mining and other production activity, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However manufacturing grew by 1.3 per cent, its strongest quarter for nearly four years, bolstering hopes for a re-balancing in the recovery away from its reliance on consumer spending.

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The UK has been struggling to return to its previous levels of activity since it plunged into recession six years ago.

But the overall size of the economy in the first quarter was just 0.6 per cent below the level where it last peaked in early 2008, meaning it looks likely to return to this level during the current quarter.

During the start of 2014, the construction sector is estimated to have grown by just 0.3 per cent, hampered by storms and high rainfall in January and February.

But the ONS said the weather was not judged to have had a significant impact on GDP growth over the period.

Mining and quarrying, together with electricity and gas production, and agriculture, shrank over the quarter.

The dominant services sector, representing more than three-quarters of output, grew by 0.9 per cent.

Manufacturing and construction are taking longer to return to health, and remain 7.7 per cent and 12.2 per cent below their pre-crisis peaks.

Chancellor George Osborne said: "Today's figures show that Britain is coming back - but we cant take that for granted. We have to carry on working through our long-term economic plan.

"For the first time in a decade all three main sectors of the economy - manufacturing, services and construction - have grown by at least 3 per cent over the last year.

"The impact of the great recession is still being felt, but the foundations for a broad-based recovery are now in place.

"The biggest risk to economic security would be abandoning the plan that is laying those foundations."