The UK service sector grew at the fastest pace since October 2013, driven by sharp increases in business and consumer spending amid easing of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, final data from IHS Markit showed on Thursday.

The Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply services business activity index advanced to 61.0 in April from 56.3 in March. The score was well above the flash estimate of 60.1.

Service providers noted that the roadmap for easing COVID-19 restrictions across the UK had been a key factor helping to boost activity. New orders increased the most since December 2013.

Sales to overseas customers remained relatively subdued, largely reflecting tight restrictions on international travel and hesitancy among clients due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, new work grew marginally from March.

Employment increased at the fastest pace in five-and-a-half years in April. Despite efforts to rebuild business capacity, backlogs of work rose at the steepest rate since March 2015.

On the price front, the survey showed that input prices rose at the strongest pace for just over four years. Efforts to mitigate rising input prices resulted in a robust increase in average charges among service providers.

Looking ahead, service sector firms overwhelmingly anticipate an upturn in business activity during the next 12 months.

The positive trend in recovery is likely to accelerate in the coming months, but stretched supply chains remain a sticking point, along with inflation potentially biting chunks out of wages and business margins, threatening to put a brake on this fast track to economic normality, Duncan Brock, group director at the CIPS, said.

The composite output index, that combines the performance of manufacturing and services, climbed to 60.7 in April from 56.4 in March. The score signaled the fastest growth in the private sector in seven-and-a-half years. The final reading was above the earlier ‘flash’ estimate of 60.0.

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