Skip to main content

Facts & figures – UK SMEs  

For over three decades, Close Brothers Asset Finance has been working with - and providing funding to - the UK’s SMEs, helping them through the good times and the bad.

Over that time the SME landscape has changed significantly – in this overview we take a closer look* at key topics, from turnover to employment rates. 

Looking at the numbers…

In 2020, there were just shy of six million private businesses operating in the UK, an increase of 300k over 2019.

Since the start of the millennium, there has been a net increase of 2.4m business enterprises, with the largest annual rise in the number of businesses registered taking place in 2013 and 2014, which saw a net increase of approximately 340k private enterprises.

Employment in the UK private sector

Out of the 31.1m people currently in employment in the UK, almost 26.9m are employed by private sector enterprises, highlighting their key role in the economy.

The large majority of firms employ zero employees – did you know businesses with no employees can either be 'registered' for VAT or PAYE or are 'unregistered'?

Number of private sector businesses in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2020, by employment size:

A significant share of the UK workforce is employed by ‘large’ firms – those that employ over 500 people. As of 2020, large companies – of which there are 3,850 - employed over 9.5m workers, despite only composing a fraction of the total number of UK private enterprises. Retail and wholesale dominate with over 5m people employed in these sectors, which were also responsible for the highest combined turnover of UK businesses, at almost £1.5 trillion.

Number of people employed in the private sector in the UK 2020, by sector:

The sector with the most enterprises overall was construction, with around a sixth of UK private enterprises belonging to this industry. The full list:


London had the most business enterprises of any region of the United Kingdom, with over a million registered in 2020, while the South East had the second-highest amount at over 931k. Northern Ireland and North East England had the fewest businesses at 148k and 163k, respectively.


The combined turnover of all private sector UK businesses in 2020 was £4.14 trillion, an increase of over £288bn compared to the previous year. Since 2012, the turnover of private enterprises has increased by over £1 trillion.

Private enterprises in London had a combined turnover of £1.25 trillion in 2020, the most of any region of the UK. The region with the next highest turnover was South East England at £758bn pounds, followed by East England at over £411bn pounds.

Turnover of private businesses in the UK 2020, by region:

Job vacancies and the impact of the pandemic

In the three months to January 2021, there was an average of 599k job vacancies, around 208k fewer compared with the same period in 2019. From the first quarter of 2020, job vacancies fell from an average of 796k to an average of 343k in the second quarter of that year, a huge drop brought about by the pandemic.

*Sources available on request