LONDON, Jan 2 (Reuters) - British manufacturing grew less quickly than expected in December but the sector still looks on track to notch up growth of more than 1 percent in the fourth quarter, according to a survey on Thursday.
Keen for Britain's economic recovery to reduce its reliance on consumer spending, policymakers have taken heart from a pick-up in factory output in recent months.
The Markit/CIPS Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) eased to 57.3 last month from November's three-year high of 58.1. That was below the 58.0 expected by analysts but still well above the 50 mark that signals expansion.
The average PMI reading for the final three months of the year was the highest since the first quarter of 2011.
"UK manufacturing's strong upsurge continued at the end of 2013, with rates of growth in production and new orders still among the highest in the 22-year PMI survey history," said Markit economist Paul Dobson.
While manufacturing has yet to recover to pre-crisis output levels - unlike the service sector which has already surpassed them - Dobson said broad-based growth in the sector should keep the recovery on track going into 2014.
A sub-index for new orders slipped to 60.4 in December from November's 19-year high of 63.9, but it remained well above the historical average.
December's survey signalled an eighth successive monthly rise in manufacturing employment with the second-strongest rate of jobs growth in the past two-and-a-half years.
Unemployment has fallen faster than the Bank of England expected, adding to doubts about how long its pledge to keep interest rates at a record low will last.
Britain's central bank has said it will only consider raising interest rates once unemployment has fallen to 7 percent. That level, which appeared distant when the bank announced its so-called "forward guidance" policy in August, is now fast approaching.
Figures two weeks ago showed unemployment fell to 7.4 percent in the three months to October, down from 7.6 percent in the three months to September.
(Reporting by Christina Fincher; Editing by Toby Chopra)