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UK Small Business Statistics

Business Population Estimates for the UK and Regions in 2016



  • There were a record 5.5 million private sector businesses at the start of 2016.
  • This is an increase of 97,000 since 2015 and 2.0 million more since 2000.
  • The number of employing businesses increased by 14,000 and the number of sole trader/self-employed businesses by 84,000, with the annual growth for both groups being around +3%.

SMEs and the Economy:

  • Small businesses accounted for 99.3% of all private sector businesses at the start of 2016 and 99.9% were small or medium-sized (SMEs).
  • Total employment in SMEs was 15.7 million; 60% of all private sector employment in the UK.
  • The combined annual turnover of SMEs was £1.8 trillion, 47% of all private sector turnover in the UK.

Composition of the business population:

  • In 2016, there were 1.3 million employing businesses and 4.2 million non-employing businesses. Therefore, 76% of businesses did not employ anyone aside from the owner.
  • The overall business population includes three main legal forms: there were 3.3 million sole proprietorships (60% of the total), 1.8 million companies (32%), and 421,000 ordinary partnerships (8%).
  • There were 2.5 million businesses registered for VAT or PAYE, 45% of the total population. A further 3.0 million are not registered for either VAT or PAYE.

Trends in the business population:

  • There has been sustained growth in the total business population, with increases of +59% since 2000 and +2% since 2015.
  • The majority of population growth since 2000 has been due to non-employing businesses, which accounted for 89% of the overall increase.
  • The growth in numbers of businesses last year reflected the composition of the business population in 2015, with non-employing businesses accounting for 86% of the overall 97,000 increase.
  • The number of companies has increased in recent years and increased again in the last year by 125,000 (+8%). In contrast, the number of ordinary partnerships continued to fall, with a 16,000 (-4%) reduction from 2015. The number of sole proprietorships decreased by 12,000 (-0.3%).

Locations and industries:

  • The business population in southern England is larger relative to resident population than elsewhere in the UK.
  • SMEs account for at least 99% of the businesses in every main industry sector.
  • Just under a fifth of all SMEs operate in Construction, compared to just 1% in the Mining, Quarrying and Utilities sector.