Productivity gaps between the UK and its main rivals have widened, according to official data.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that UK productivity levels in 2004 lagged behind the United States and France.

The United States retained its place on top, as the efficiency of its workers pushed its productivity 24% above that of the UK. France followed with productivity levels 11% higher than the UK.

Productivity is measured by GDP per worker, and the figures show the UK has slipped 10% behind even the average of all other G7 nations, excluding itself.

The UK remains ahead of both Germany and Japan, but Japan narrowed the gap between them. Germany lingers just 3% behind the UK in productivity and sits roughly on par.

John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said recent events highlight what is shown in these figures and underscore one of Europe's biggest problems.

"Today's figures from the [ONS] showing that the UK continues to lag behind the United States and France, and is equal with Germany, in the productivity league table puts into perspective recent criticism of Europe's ability to compete with China," Philpott said.

"Following the recent 'Bra Wars' debacle, many UK commentators have been pointing the finger at European manufacturers, accusing them of supporting protectionism instead of taking steps to move upmarket and compete with the Chinese on quality rather than price.

"However, as today's productivity comparisons make clear, the UK is in no position to preach on this issue."

Though the UK lags behind Europe in competitiveness, Philpott said all of Europe must 'raise its game'.