UK SME Population Hits A Six Year Post-Recession High


The number of active small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the UK reached a six-year high of 2.16 million in 2013, according to the SME Growth Monitor from the National Association for Commercial Finance Brokers (NACFB).

The UK now has the most SMEs in business since before the downturn after two successive years of growth. Following the loss of 80,615 small businesses between 2008 and 2011, SME numbers have swelled by 4.2% in the last two years (+86,435) compared with a 3.3% rise among large employers (+285).*

England leads the way with 4.6% SME population growth since 2011, closely followed by Scotland on 4.5%. In both cases the revival of small business fortunes has outstripped larger businesses whose numbers have grown by 3.3% and 3.9% respectively.

In contrast, Wales has experienced just 0.3% SME growth in the last two years (vs. 5.5% for large employers). Small business numbers in Northern Ireland have fallen by -1.9%, while its big business population has shrunk even further (-2.5%).

SME growth rate strongest in England and Scotland since 2011





N. Ireland

SME growth






Large business  growth






Nine in ten UK industries see SME growth – outpacing large employers

The post-2011 boom has seen SME numbers grow in 18 out of 20 UK industries*, with the only exceptions being construction (-2%) and wholesale (-1%). In contrast big business numbers have risen in just three quarters of UK industries.

Professional, scientific and technical industries have seen the biggest SME population growth of any sector (+35,905), followed by information and communication (+18,025), health (+6,535), property (+5,580), agriculture (+4,765), education (+3,540) and manufacturing (+3,435).

The greatest shift in sector demographics has been in public administration and defence which boasts nearly twice as many SMEs (+97%) as in 2011 but fewer large employers (-3%).

Adam Tyler, CEO of the NACFB, commented:

“SMEs are the stalwarts of the economic recovery: they have made the early running and played a vital role in brightening the UK’s future prospects. By fuelling activity in greater numbers across the majority of UK industries, they have helped rebuild a strong foundation for further growth. This not only opens up more jobs but also boosts those larger employers who count SMEs in their supply chain or rely on the essential services they provide.

“Uneven growth across the British Isles still shows more work needs to be done to support the revival of small business fortunes. SMEs in England and Scotland have benefitted from innovative business lending, which has increased the mix of commercial finance available to entrepreneurs. Commercial brokers can often unlock new routes to funding on a local level, and a renewed commitment from lenders in Wales and Northern Ireland can satisfy regional appetite for investment to kick-start their SME recovery.”

SMEs most affected as yearly growth rate slows

Despite the positive two year figures – and increasingly upbeat reports on the future of the economy – NACFB analysis reveals the growth of the UK business population slowed between 2012 and 2013, with a greater impact on SMEs than large employers.

While big business numbers maintained a consistent annual growth (1.7% in 2012 and 1.6% in 2013) the yearly rate of SME expansion fell from 3.3% to 0.9%: a slowdown mirrored across the UK.


England’s SMEs visibly outgrew big businesses in number during 2012 (3.5% vs. 2.2%) but were pegged back to 1.1% growth in 2013: the same rate achieved by large employers.

The yearly growth of Scotland’s SME population also slowed during 2013 and fell behind in Wales for the first time since 2011, while Northern Ireland saw a sixth year of SME decline.

In contrast, big business numbers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each bucked the overall UK trend for 2013 by growing at a faster annual rate than in 2012.

Adam Tyler, CEO of the NACFB, continued:

“The SME population has been the first to bounce back after the financial crisis, suggesting an ability to adapt quicker than some larger businesses and respond to customers’ changing needs. But their small size also leaves them vulnerable to funding shortages, legislative change and the ebb and flow of the economy.

“As the UK recovery moves into second gear, SMEs will need a further hand to sustain their early growth. There are far more funding sources available to SMEs now than before the crash – alternative finance has already stepped up its game and the revised Funding for Lending Scheme should prompt greater volumes of business lending in 2014.

“Business leaders need the reassurance that there are many answers out there to satisfy a call for investment. A carefully chosen mix of commercial funding can solve many business challenges. With NACFB’s online Small Business Finance Directory now connecting thousands of businesses to a network of specialist commercial brokers, work is well underway to join the dots that will lead to greater growth.”


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