UK Small Business Statistics

Business Population Estimates for the UK and Regions in 2021


  • There were 5.5 million small businesses at the start of 2021.
  • Compared with the previous year, the private sector business population decreased 6.5% (-389,600 businesses).

SMEs and the Economy:

  • At the start of 2021 there were 5.5 million small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees), 99.2% of the total business. SMEs account for 99.9% of the business population (5.5 million businesses). 
  • SMEs account for three fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector.
  • Total employment in SMEs was 16.3 million (61% of the total), whilst turnover was estimated at £2.3 trillion (52%).
  • Employment in small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees) was 12.9 million (48% of the total), with a turnover of £1.6 trillion (36%).

Composition of the business population:

  • In 2021, there were estimated to be 5.5 million UK private sector businesses
  • 1.4 million of these had employees and 4.2 million had no employees.
  • The UK private sector business population is made up of 3.2 million sole proprietorships (56% of the total), 2 million actively trading companies (37%) and 384,000 ordinary partnerships (7%) in 2021.
  • 2.7 million private sector businesses as registered for VAT or PAYE, 48% of the estimated total population.

Trends in the business population

  • Between 2020 and 2021, the total business population decreased by 390,000 (6.5%).
  • Between 2000 and 2021 the business population increased by 2.1 million (+61%), with the highest rate of increase of +6.8% between 2013 and 2014, and 6.7% between 2003 and 2004.
  • The decrease of 6.5% between 2020 and 2021 is only the second decrease in the series and is considerably larger than the 0.5% decrease between 2017 and 2018.

Locations and industries

  • Sixteen percent of all SMEs were operating in Construction, compared with less than 1% in the Mining, Quarrying and Utilities sector.
  • Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities accounted for 15% of all SMEs, while 10% were in the Wholesale and Retail Trade and Repair sector.
  • London (1 million) and the South East (875,000) had the most private sector businesses, accounting for 34% of the UK business population, while the North East had 154,000 private sector businesses, the least of any English region.
  • Between 2020 and 2021 the number of private sector businesses decreased by 336,000 (6%) in England, compared to 28,000 (8%) in Scotland, 25,000 (17%) in Northern Ireland and 1,000 (1%) in Wales.
  • London was the English region with the largest numeric decrease (90,000), followed by the South East (57,000). The English regions with the largest decrease, in percentage terms, were London and the West Midlands (both 8%); the smallest decrease was in Yorkshire and the Humber (2%).

Figures obtained from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills


Get the latest news

The FSB monthly newsletter contains useful info for those who are self-employed, own a small business or those interested in the important work we carry out. By subscribing you're showing your support for the 5.5m small businesses across the UK and the important role they play in our society.

subscribe now