Table of contents
- Main points
- Growth in the number of businesses continues
- Corporate businesses continue to see an increase
- Professional, scientific, and technical industry accounts for the largest share of businesses
- Most regions in the UK saw increases in the number of businesses
- Only 2.1% of businesses operate more than one site
- UK business data
- Measuring the data
- Strengths and limitations
- Related links
1. Main points
The number of Value Added Tax (VAT) and/or Pay As You Earn (PAYE) businesses in the UK as of March 2021 was 2.77 million, an increase of 0.6% from March 2020.
The number of companies and public corporations has continued to rise and represents 74.3% of total UK businesses, while the proportion of sole proprietors and partnerships has fallen to 22.1%.
The largest industry group is still professional, scientific, and technical, making up 16.4% of all registered businesses in the UK; this is down 0.6 percentage points from March last year.
London remained the region with the largest number of businesses, representing 19.3% of the UK total; however, the year-on-year growth in London businesses is the lowest since 2018.
2. Growth in the number of businesses continues
Figure 1: The number of VAT and/or PAYE businesses in the UK increased by 0.6% from March 2020
Number of VAT and/or PAYE based businesses, UK, 2016 to 2021
Source: Office for National Statistics – Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR)
Download this chart Figure 1: The number of VAT and/or PAYE businesses in the UK increased by 0.6% from March 2020Image .csv .xls
The number of VAT and/or PAYE businesses in the UK as of March 2021 increased to 2.77 million, an increase of 0.6% from March 2020. This growth in the business population contrasts sharply with a fall of 5.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) over the same period, decoupling business growth and economic growth after many years in which they tracked each other quite closely. This divergence is likely because of business support schemes preventing business deaths.
Figure 2: Business growth and economic growth diverged in 2021
Growth in the number of businesses versus growth in GDP, UK, 1985 to 2021
Source: Office for National Statistics – Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) and gross domestic product (GDP)
- For background information relating to figure 2, please see Section 10.
Download this chart Figure 2: Business growth and economic growth diverged in 2021Image .csv .xls
3. Corporate businesses continue to see an increase
Between March 2020 and March 2021, there was an increase of 1.5% in corporate businesses (companies and public corporations). The decrease in sole proprietors and partnerships has continued, down 2.3% compared with a fall of 3.4% last year.
|Sole proprietors |
|Companies and |
|General government |
and non-profit making bodies
Download this table Table 1: Percentage of businesses by status.xls .csv
Of the 2.05 million corporate businesses, 46.0% are single-employee limited companies. The largest number of these are in the professional, scientific and technical industry, carrying out management consultancy activities. However, in 2021 the number of these management consultancy businesses decreased by 6.4%.Back to table of contents
5. Most regions in the UK saw increases in the number of businesses
Between 2019 and 2021, most regions showed an increase in the numbers of registered businesses. East Midlands has shown the largest increase in share, with a rise of 0.2 percentage points. The two regions with the largest decrease were the East and Scotland, both down 0.2 percentage points.
|Count given to the nearest thousand|
|Yorkshire and The Humber||186||6.8||189||6.9||192||6.9|
Download this table Table 3: Number of VAT and/or PAYE based businesses by region.xls .csv
Figure 4: The region with the largest growth in the number of VAT and/or PAYE based businesses is the East Midlands
Percentage growth by region, UK, 2020 to 2021
Source: Office for National Statistics – Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR)
Download this chart Figure 4: The region with the largest growth in the number of VAT and/or PAYE based businesses is the East MidlandsImage .csv .xls
East Midlands experienced the largest growth (2.7%) in the number of businesses between 2020 and 2021, representing around 5,000 businesses. Scotland showed a 1.3% decrease in the number of businesses following a 0.4% increase in 2020.
Please note that, for various reasons, multiple business registrations can be recorded at a single address and this can distort data for smaller geographical areas.Back to table of contents
6. Only 2.1% of businesses operate more than one site
For the first time since 2016 the percentage of businesses that operate from more than one site has dropped, by 0.1 percentage points. Out of the 2.77 million VAT and/or PAYE businesses, only 59,000 operate from more than one site.
Of the businesses with one site, the largest number are within the professional, scientific and technical sector, while in the case of businesses with 20 or more sites the largest number are in the wholesale and retail sectors.
|Number of local units|
|1||2 to 4||5 to 9||10 to 19||20 or more||Total|
Download this table Table 4: Number of VAT and/or PAYE businesses and their associated local units.xls .csv
7. UK business data
UK business: activity, size and location
Dataset | Released 4 October 2021
The data contained in these tables are numbers of enterprises and local units produced from a snapshot of the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) taken on 12 March 2021. The publication contains tables on local units and enterprises by geography, industry, legal status and employment size band. Additional tables at enterprise level provide information by turnover size band.
For the purpose of this release the term "business" is used to represent an enterprise.
Companies are businesses that are legally separate entities from the owners. These owners have limited liability, meaning they are not wholly responsible for losses and debts.
An enterprise can be defined as the smallest combination of legal units (generally based on VAT and/or PAYE records) that is an organisational unit producing goods or services, which benefits from a certain degree of autonomy in decision-making, especially for the allocation of its current resources.
Inter-Departmental Business Register
The Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) is a comprehensive list of UK businesses used by government for statistical purposes. The IDBR provides the main sampling frame for surveys of businesses carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and other government departments. It is also an important data source for analyses of business activities.
The two main sources of input are Value Added Tax (VAT) and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) records from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Additional information comes from Companies House, Dun and Bradstreet and the ONS business surveys.
A local unit is an individual site (for example a factory or shop) within an enterprise.
A business run by two or more self-employed people.
A public corporation is a market body which is controlled by central government, local government or other public corporations and which has substantial day-to-day operating independence so that it is seen as an institutional unit separate from its parent departments.
A business run by one self-employed person.Back to table of contents
9. Measuring the data
The UK business: activity, size and location Quality and Methodology Information document contains important information on:
the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data
users and uses of the data
how the output was created
accessibility and characteristics
10. Strengths and limitations
The figures for this release are produced from an extract taken from the Inter- Departmental Business Register (IDBR), recording the position of businesses on 12 March 2021, in line with the same timing of all previous releases of this publication.
This publication represents the businesses registered with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for VAT and/or PAYE. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) produces Business Population Estimates. These estimates seek to provide full coverage of all types of businesses in the UK including an estimate of the unregistered business population.
Since IDBR snapshots for this release are taken in March, the appropriate gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate for Figure 2 is the year to Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar). However, the trends are similar with calendar year growth rates for GDP too.
Numerous breaks in the methodology of the IDBR exist over time. It is not possible to calculate a growth rate in the IDBR for 1996 as the IDBR was created in 1995; previously it was the Business Statistics Office Register, which was similar but not exactly comparable.
Please note the figures in the statistical bulletin tables use disclosure methods and are rounded individually. Therefore, the sum of component items may be slightly different to the totals shown.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Statistical bulletin
Telephone: +44 1633 456902