UK business; activity, size and location: 2023

UK businesses broken down by legal status, industry, region, employment and turnover size bands.

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Email Becky Shaw

Dyddiad y datganiad:
27 September 2023

Cyhoeddiad nesaf:
To be announced

1. Main points

  • The number of Value Added Tax (VAT) and/or Pay As You Earn (PAYE) businesses in the UK as of March 2023 was 2.727 million, a decrease of 1.5% from March 2022.

  • This is the first fall in the number of VAT and/or PAYE-registered businesses since the fall of 0.9% from March 2010 to March 2011.

  • The numbers of businesses within all categories of legal status fell except for local authorities and non-profit organisations.

  • The largest industry group is professional, scientific, and technical, making up 15.2% of all registered businesses in the UK; this is down 0.4 percentage points from March last year.

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2. Small decrease in the number of businesses

The number of Value Added Tax (VAT) and/or Pay As You Earn (PAYE) businesses in the UK as of March 2023 was 2.727 million, a decrease of 1.5% from 2.768 million in March 2022. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the business population remained fairly steady but is now showing this small fall, while gross domestic product (GDP) fell sharply, year-on-year into the first quarter of 2021, then rose sharply into the first quarter of 2022. GDP is showing a very small increase year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023, as we move beyond the years most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, the growth in the business population has slowed since 2018 compared with the 2012 to 2018 time period.

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4. Professional, scientific, and technical industry accounts for the largest share of businesses

The professional, scientific, and technical industry accounted for the largest number of businesses, with 15.2% of all registered businesses in the UK. The number of businesses in this industry has decreased for four years running, but it has remained the largest broad industry group since 2013.

The strong growth seen in the transport and storage industry in 2021 has been replaced by falls in 2022 and 2023 with a decrease in the number of businesses in 2023 of 6.9%. Within transport and storage, courier activities (down 12.2%) and freight transport by road (down 8.3%) showed the biggest decrease. The number of businesses in the Information and Communication industry fell by 4.5 % in 2023. This is the third consecutive fall in this industry. In 2023, the property and health industries exhibited the highest percentage growth rate at 2.8%.

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5. Most regions in the UK saw decreases in the number of businesses

Between 2022 and 2023, there were decreases in the number of businesses in all regions except Northern Ireland. There has been a fall of 0.4 percentage points in the South East since 2021 but Table 4 shows that the distribution of businesses across regions has been fairly stable since 2021.

The number of businesses in Northern Ireland increased by 0.3% between 2022 and 2023. East Midlands saw the biggest decrease of 2.9%.

Please note that, for various reasons, multiple business registrations can be recorded at a single address, as explained in our Multiple business registrations at a single postcode, UK: 2021 methodology, and this can distort data for smaller geographical areas.

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6. Decrease in the number of sites

For two consecutive years, the number of sites has decreased (down by 1.4% in 2023). Out of the 2.727 million Value Added Tax (VAT) and/or Pay As You Earn (PAYE) businesses, only 58,000 operate from more than one site. Out of these businesses, the industry with the biggest decrease in sites is the retail sector with a drop of 3,520 sites. This fall came mainly from businesses with 20 or more sites.

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7. UK business Data

UK business: activity, size and location
Dataset | Released 10 March 2023
Numbers of enterprises and local units produced from a snapshot of the Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) taken on 10 March 2023.

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8. Glossary


For the purposes 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 is an organisational unit producing goods or services that has a certain degree of autonomy in decision making.


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 ONS business surveys.

Local unit

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.

Public corporations

A public corporation is a market body that 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.

Sole proprietors

A business run by one self-employed person.

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9. Measuring the data

Our UK business: activity, size and location Quality and Methodology Information document contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how they compare with related data
  • quality characteristics
  • users and uses of the data
  • how the output was created
  • accessibility and characteristics
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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 10 March 2023, 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 Value Added Tax (VAT) and/or PAYE. The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) produces Business Population Estimates, which seeks 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 to calendar-year growth rates for GDP.

Please note that 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.

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12. Cite this statistical bulletin

Office for National Statistics (ONS), released 27 September 2023, ONS website, statistical bulletin, UK business; activity, size and location: 2023

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Becky Shaw
Ffôn: +44 1633 456902