A burst of activity throughout the service economy more than offset a manufacturing slow-down in the final months of last year.
It delivered overall growth of 0.5 per cent for the fourth quarter, the best quarterly outcome for 2005.
That still left the year's growth of the gross domestic product at 1.8 per cent, fractionally better than the 1.75 per cent forecast by Chancellor Gordon Brown in December, but still weaker than in any year since the economy was emerging from the last recession in 1992.
Numbers from National Statistics confirmed the prevailing pattern of a two-speed economy.
While services grew by 0.9 per cent in the three months to December, the smaller manufacturing sector suffered a 0.8 per cent decline.
This led Birmingham Chamber of Commerce to reiterate its call for an interest rate cut.
"Although we welcome the slight improvements shown in the service sector and the economy as a whole during the final quarter of the year, growth over the whole 12-month period has been disappointing," said James Crop-per, the chamber's policy adviser.
"If inflation remains at or around the Government's two per cent target, we feel that these figures only strengthen the case for an interest rate cut early in 2006."
This was echoed by David Kern, economic adviser to the British Chambers of Commerce.
"Powerful fundamental factors continue to support the case for an early modest interest rate cut," he said.
"UK unemployment is rising, year-on-year GDP growth is significantly below trend, and wage rises and inflation have both eased.
"The rise in sterling significantly reduces any risks that may be associated with an interest rate cut."
Manufacturing output, Mr Kern pointed out, has contracted by 1.8 per cent over the year, "the third full-year fall over the past five years, a truly alarming record".
The pressure of slower growth on the Government's finances was underscored by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.
In its annual "green Budget", compiled with Morgan Stanley, the IFS warned that the £3 billion of tax increases, mainly on North Sea oil companies, foreshadowed by Mr Brown in his pre-Budget statement in December, will not be enough.
He will still need to raise taxes by another £2.5 billion, even if his projection of a £9.5 billion squeeze on public spending materialises, the institute said.
Mr Brown is also likely to break his own rules for limit-ing public borrowing, it added.
"Given the uncertainty implied by the Treasury's past forecasting record, there is still a significant possibility even on its own figures that, unless the Chancellor takes action, one or both (the rules) can be breached by the end of the current forecasting horizon."
The Treasury dismissed the comment out of hand. "The Government's spending plans are fully affordable on the basis of cautious assumptions and decisions already made," a Treasury spokesman declared.
"With the public finances continuing to strengthen, and as set out by the Chancellor in last month's pre-Budget report, the Government is meeting its golden rule with a margin of £16 billion." ..SUPL: