ICAEW chart of the week: Incorporations and dissolutions

My chart for ICAEW this week illustrates how company dissolutions continue to outpace incorporations as the economy remains in first gear.

Column chart titled 'Incorporations and dissolutions' with two-column comparisons over five years.

2019: 670,575 incorporations and 671, 501 dissolutions

2020: 758,012 and 536,564

2021: 762,278 and 807,049

2022: 778,219 and 876,521

2023: 801,831 and 825,980

7 Dec 2023.
Chart by Martin Wheatcroft FCA. Design by Sunday.

Source: ONS, 'Companies House incorporations and dissolutions, 7 Dec 2023'.

A key indicator for the health of the economy is the comparison between how many companies are created each year and the number that are dissolved, and our chart this week illustrates how these compare over the last four years up until 1 December 2023.

In 2019 there were 670,575 company incorporations and 671,501 dissolutions (391,066 compulsorily and 280,435 voluntarily), a net contraction in the number of companies of 926, consistent with the rather tepid economy we were experiencing in the year before the pandemic.

The numbers for 2020 were distorted by the pandemic, with incorporations rising to 758,012 and dissolutions falling to 536,564 (275,933 compulsorily and 260,631 voluntarily) – a net increase of 221,448. The rise in incorporations was no doubt contributed to by people deciding to start new businesses during lockdown, although bulk incorporations may also have been a factor. The significant fall in companies dissolved in 2020 compared with the previous year reflects government support on offer during the pandemic that propped up many companies that would otherwise have failed during 2020.

Incorporations rose further to 762,278 in 2021 and 778,219 in 2022, but these gains were more than offset by a sharp rise in dissolutions, which jumped to 807,049 (508,448 compulsorily and 289,604 voluntarily) in 2021 and 876,521 (572,646 compulsorily and 304,875 voluntarily) in 2022 as government support was withdrawn and reality caught up with many companies. Extremely high energy costs and high inflation were key factors in the demise of many businesses over this period. The net decrease in the number of companies was 44,771 in 2021 and 98,202 in 2022.

The number of companies incorporated during the first 11 months of 2023 was 801,831, a 9% rise on the equivalent period last year, while 825,980 companies were dissolved (539,643 compulsorily and 286,337 voluntarily), a rise of less than 1%. This has narrowed the gap to a contraction of 24,149 companies in the first 11 months of 2023.

While these numbers may be accurate to the nearest digit (unlike most sample-based statistics), their meaning for the economy is much less precise. Many companies are incorporated but never go on to trade, while some incorporations are merely a corporate wrapper around an existing business, or with personal service companies they can be a conversion of economic activity from one legal form to another. Unfortunately, companies are also sometimes incorporated for fraudulent purposes. Similarly, companies are wound up for a range of reasons and not just because they are all the consequence of failing businesses.

Despite that, they do provide a helpful indicator on what is going on with the economy, as the ‘cycle of business life’ is played out. For example, in theory it should be positive that even after a post-pandemic ‘shakeout’ the total number of companies over the period from 2019 to 1 December 2023 has grown by 53,300.

This may also be a statistic worth watching in 2024 as Companies House uses its new powers to weed out companies in the register. Just how significant will the introduction of new verification procedures and more active enforcement activity be to numbers of companies being incorporated and dissolved each year?

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK registered businesses

My chart this week looks at the 1.5% drop in the number of VAT- and PAYE-registered businesses in the year to 31 March 2023.

Column chart with two columns for March 2022 (left) and March 2023 (right).

Total registered businesses - 2,767,700 (March 2022) and 2,726,830 (March 2023).

Companies - 2,058,886 and 2,039,920

Sole proprietors - 427,710 and 413,160

Partnerships - 181,010 and 172,890

Non-profits & public sector - 100,095 and 100,860.

On 27 September 2023, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published data on the 2,726,830 businesses that were registered for VAT and/or PAYE in the UK as of March 2023, a 1.5% fall from the 2,767,700 businesses that were registered a year previously. 

As illustrated by our chart this week, the number of VAT- and PAYE-registered companies fell by 0.9% from 2,058,885 to 2,039,920, sole proprietorships fell by 3.4% from 427,710 to 413,160, and partnerships fell by 4.5% from 181,010 to 172,890. 

Bucking the trend were non-profit bodies, mutual associations and public sector organisations, which rose by 0.8% from 100,095 to 100,860. The latter comprised 88,375 non-profit bodies and mutuals, 9,030 local authority entities, 3,280 central government entities and 175 public corporations and other publicly owned businesses, as of March 2023.

Not shown in the chart are in the order of 2.8m ‘unregistered’ businesses that are not registered for VAT or PAYE. Most of these are self-employed individuals, sole traders, or one-person companies that generate revenue below the VAT threshold of £85,000 and do not have any payrolled employees.

The number of registered businesses in March 2023 by industry group are comprised as follows: 

  • 415,250 professional, scientific and technical (down 3.7% on March 2022); 
  • 402,165 motor trades (-2.8%); 
  • 377,585 construction (+0.7%);
  • 226,285 business administration and support services (-1.1%); 
  • 187,360 information and communication (-4.5%); 
  • 184,420 arts, entertainment, recreation and other services (+2.0%);
  • 174,830 accommodation and food services (-0.2%); 
  • 151,710 production (-1.8%);
  • 141,390 agriculture, forestry and fishing (-0.8%)
  • 128,600 transport and storage including postal (-6.9%);
  • 113,785 (+2.8%) property, 109,095 health (+2.8%);
  • 59,210 finance and insurance (-2.0%);
  • 47,340 education (+1.3%); and
  • 7,805 public administration and defence (+0.4%).

There were 2,115,105 businesses with between zero and four employees as of March 2023, followed by 313,780 (five to nine employees), 157,955 (10-19), 86,285 (20-49), 27,660 (50-99). 15,135 (100-249) and 10,910 (250+).

By turnover band, the numbers as of March 2023 were: 445,020 (£0-£49,999); 563,610 (£50,000-£99,999); 846,615 (£100,000-£249,999); 367,315 (£250,000-£499,999); 222,155 (£500,000-£999,999); 123,995 (£1m-£2m); 85,655 (£2m-£5m); 32,100 (£5m-£10m); 29,080 (£10m-£50m); and 9,285 (£50m+).

The fall in the number of businesses in 2022/23 is perhaps not surprising given the significant amount of support provided to many businesses during the pandemic, which will have delayed the normal process of business closure during the previous two years. Meanwhile, the cost-of-living and energy crises will have also made it difficult for some businesses to survive in the year to March 2023. Even though energy prices have come down, the cost-of-living crisis and consequent reductions in consumer demand could see further businesses fail during 2023/24.

Find out more: ONS: UK business – activity, size and location 2023.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK business births and deaths

My chart this week illustrates the choppy economic waters facing UK businesses as more stopped trading than were created over the course of 2022.

Bar chart going down vertically from Q1 2017 to Q4 2022 showing business closures and creations on the left and the net decrease or net increase on the right.

Q1 2017 -78,950, +97,340, +18,390
Q2 2017 -96,390, +80,930, -15,460
Q3 2017 -82,555, +86,380, +3,825
Q4 2017 -67,655, -73,975, +6,320
Q1 2018 -86,775, +88,295, +1,520
Q2 2018 -80,550, +95,715, +15,165
Q3 2018 -65,660, +79,410, +13,750
Q4 2018 -72,375, +76,730, +4,355
Q1 2019 -77,990, +97,110, +19,120
Q2 2019 -91,410, +95,675, +4,265
Q3 2019 -74,440, +84,970, +10,530
Q4 2019 -67,990, +77,970, +9,980
Q1 2020 -96,660, +89,910, -6,750
Q2 2020 -72,665, +73,415, +16,170
Q3 2020 -60,415, +76,585, +16,170
Q4 2020 -78,965, +82,080, +3,115
Q1 2021 -86,600, +101,845, +15,245
Q2 2021 -88,515, +91,400, +2,885
Q3 2021 -83,235, +81,165, -2,070
Q4 2021 -87,040, +79,870, -7,170
Q1 2022 -110,515, +98,730, -11,785
Q2 2022 95,155, +89,225, -5,930
Q3 2022 -79,305, +67,390, -11,915
Q4 2022 -82,390, -69,445, -12,945

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its latest quarterly experimental statistics on business births and deaths on 2 February 2023. This reports that business closures have increased since before the pandemic at the same time as business creations have fallen, resulting in net reductions in the number of VAT- or PAYE-registered businesses operating in the UK over the past six quarters.

The statistics are taken from the government’s Inter-Departmental Business Register, a database of approximately 2.8m businesses registered for either PAYE or VAT, just over half of the estimated 5.5m businesses operating in the UK (according to the Department of Business & Trade). The difference principally relates to sole traders with turnover below the VAT threshold who have not voluntarily registered for VAT, or for PAYE if they trade through a company. There is also a time lag on reporting the closure of businesses where a business continues to be registered, with the ONS waiting for several periods of zero VAT or zero payrolls before recording a business as closed.

The statistics are labelled as experimental because they are not as rigorous as annual statistics, but the advantage is that they provide data on business births and deaths in 2022, for which we will not get a full set of annual numbers until towards the end of this year. 

As our chart illustrates, the quarterly net change in businesses in 2017 was +18,390, -15,460, +3,825 and +6,320 respectively, followed by +1,520, +15,165, +13,750, +4,365 in 2018, +19,120 and +4,265, +10,530 and +9,980 in 2019. The pandemic saw a fall in business closures as government support enabled businesses that would otherwise have stopped operating to stay alive, with a net decrease of -6,750 in Q1 2020 followed by net increases of +750, +16,170, +3,115 in the second, third and fourth quarters of 2020. 

A spurt in business creations in early 2021 saw net increases of +15,245 and +2,885 in the first two quarters, before net decreases of -2,070 and 7,170 in the last two quarters of 2021. With pandemic support measures coming to an end and the onset of the energy crisis, the trend moved further into negative territory with quarterly net closures of -11,785, -5,930, -11,915 and -12,945 in 2022.

Quarterly business deaths averaged around 81,400 in 2017, 76,300 in 2018, 78,000 in 2019, 77,200 in 2020, 86,300 in 2021 and 91,800 in 2022, while quarterly business births averaged around 84,700 in 2017, 85,000 in 2018, 88,900 in 2019, 80,500 in 2020, 88,600 in 2021 and 81,200 in 2022.

These numbers will not be pretty reading for Kemi Badenoch, the new Secretary of State for Business and Trade. With interest rates on the rise, energy costs still at very high levels and consumers cutting back on spending, the risks are that many more existing businesses will cease trading, while business creations may continue to be subdued.

One crumb of comfort is that businesses founded during downturns are believed to do better than those founded in good times. So, if you are thinking of striking out on your own with a new business idea, there may be no better time than now.

This chart was originally published by ICAEW.

ICAEW chart of the week: UK businesses

UK businesses: average revenue / person. No employees (4.8m people) £63k. Employers (22.7m people) £170k.

The #icaewchartoftheweek is on the 5.9m UK businesses reported by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to have been in operation at 1 January 2019, generating a total of £4.1tn in revenue each year.

According to the annual statistics published a couple of weeks ago, there are 4.5m businesses with no employees, generating an average revenue of £63k for the 4.8m person involved (this includes partnerships). This contrasts with the 1.4m businesses with employees with 22.7m people engaged at an average revenue of £170k per person. 

Unsurprisingly, the 3.2m sole traders, freelancers, partnerships and personal companies not registered for VAT or PAYE (a total of 3.5m people engaged, generating an average revenue of £34k per person) have much lower average revenues than the 1.2m that are (1.3m, generating an average of £141k). Most part-time freelancers and self-employed contractors included in the former will have no need to register for VAT, while the latter will include VAT-registered consultants and other highly-paid individuals that are self-employed or employed via their own companies.

Most of the 1.4m employers are small businesses (up to 99 staff), employing 9.9m people with an average revenue of £149k per person (not shown in the chart). These include 141,135 businesses with only 1 employee (0.3m people generating an average of £83k), 751,205 businesses with 2-4 employees (2.1m, £158k), 399,365 with 5-19 employees (3.7m, £136k) and 96,505 businesses with 20-99 employees (3.8m, £162k).

There are 12,055 medium sized businesses with 100-249 employees (1.9m people in total, generating an average of £205k), while 7,685 large businesses employed 10.9m people at an average revenue of £182k per person.

There are some important caveats. Firstly, the numbers employed may include some double counting, as people can be involved in more than one business in different capacities. In addition, it is important to note that revenue is not the same as profit, and the numbers do not analyse the cost-structure of different sizes of business.

To see the underlying data, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/business-population-estimates-2019.