The UK service sector picked up in February after the weakest start to the year in almost a decade, according to the latest IHS Markit/CIPS services purchasing managers’ index (PMI).

Britain looks on track to sustain the same growth rate as late 2017, helped by strong global growth, economists said.

But headwinds persist from weak consumer spending and investor caution before Britain quits the European Union in March 2019.

The index rose to a four-month high of 54.5 from 53.0 in January.

January’s reading had been the weakest for that month since 2009, when the economy was deep in recession, and February’s data remains weaker than the euro zone PMI.

Unusually heavy snow over the past week was unlikely to have a big effect on growth for the first-quarter as a whole, economists said.

IHS Markit economist Chris Williamson said: “The service sector overtook manufacturing as the fastest growing part of the economy for only the second time since the referendum in February, thanks to the combination of the largest rise in services activity for four months and waning growth of factory output.

“A complex array of forces were at play in the UK services sector last month resulting in the fastest rise in new orders since May 2017 but also hindered by continued consumer caution over spending.

“In fact it was business customers that had the confidence to forge ahead with orders, as consumers hesitated over concerns about possible rate rises impacting on their household budgets and what the future could hold.”

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