There were 5.6 million small businesses at the start of 2023. Compared with the previous year, the private sector business population increased by 0.8% (46,000 businesses).
SMEs and the economy
- At the start of 2023 there were 5.5 million small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees), 99.2% of the total business population. SMEs account for 99.9% of the business population (5.6 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 16.7 million (61% of the total), whilst turnover was estimated at £2.4 trillion (53%).
- Employment in small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees) was 13.1 million (48% of the total), with a turnover of £1.6 trillion (36%).
Composition of the business population
- In 2023, there were estimated to be 5.5 million UK private sector businesses.
- 1.4 million of these had employees and 4.1 million had no employees.
- The UK private sector business population is made up of 3.1 million sole proprietorships (56% of the total), 2.1 million actively trading companies (37%) and 365,000 ordinary partnerships (7%) in 2023.
- 2.6 million private sector businesses are registered for VAT or PAYE, 48% of the estimated total population.
Trends in the business population
- Between 2022 and 2023, the total business population increased by 46,000 (0.8%).
- Between 2010 and 2023 the business population increased by 1.1 million (+24%), with the highest rate of increase of +6.8% between 2013 and 2014, and 5.0% between 2011 and 2012.
- The largest decrease in the business population was 6.5% between 2020 and 2021. Only three decreases have taken place since 2010, all of which have occurred since 2017.
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 14% of all SMEs, while 10% were in the Wholesale and Retail Trade and Repair sector.
- London (1 million) and the South East (852,000) had the most private sector businesses, accounting for 34% of the UK business population, while the North East had 156,000 private sector businesses, the fewest of any English region.
- Between 2022 and 2023 the number of private sector businesses increased by 95,000 in England and by 300 in Wales, whilst numbers decreased in both Scotland (43,000) and Northern Ireland (6,000).
- The North West was the English region with the largest numeric increase (32,000), followed by the East of England (26,000), whilst the largest percentage increase was also in the North West (6%). Business numbers decreased in the South West by 13,000 (2%).
Figures obtained from the Department for Business and Trade
Looking for the latest small business research?
At the Federation of Small Businesses, we publish a range of policy reports about important issues impacting small businesses and the self-employed, as well as our quarterly Small Business Index.
Want to have your say?
As an FSB member, you’re invited to take part in our unique online survey programme, Big Voice. Share your experiences and views to help us to influence policy decisions across the UK.