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Record numbers challenged

SNP and Tories clash over business growth data

Paul Wheelhouse

Paul Wheelhouse: stats confirm government record on business growth (pic: Terry Murden)


The SNP and Scottish Tories clashed today over new figures on the number of businesses being created in Scotland.

Official statistics show there were a record 365,600 private sector businesses (registered & unregistered) operating in Scotland as at March 2017.

This is up by 52.4% since 2000 – providing more than two million jobs in Scotland.

Business Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the data was a reflection of government support for business start-ups.

However, Conservative economy spokesman Dean Lockhart said the statistics show Scotland has a significantly lower rate of businesses per head of population than the rest of the UK.

The official Businesses in Scotland 2017 report stated there were 393 enterprises for every 10,000 adults north of the border. Across the whole UK that figure is 499.

The figure represents an increase of 11,110 (3.1%) over the year, taking the number of businesses in Scotland to its highest level in the 17 years since the figures were first recorded.

The number of these firms which are VAT/PAYE registered is up for the sixth year in a row, by 2,405 (1.4%) from 173,995 in 2016 to 176,400 in 2017 – and is also at a record high.

The estimated number of unregistered businesses (the smallest firms with an annual turnover below the VAT threshold of £83,000 and do not have employees) rose from 180,500 in 2016 to 189,200 in 2017 – an increase of 8,700 (4.8%).

Mr Wheelhouse, said: “These figures show Scotland’s business scene is thriving, and the rise has been driven in particular by the success of our small business start-ups.

“But it is very encouraging to see the growth in the number of VAT registered businesses too.

Mr Lockhart took a different viewpoint. “This is another indicator of how bad this SNP government has been for Scotland’s economy,” he said.

“These latest figures show that, after a decade of the SNP being in charge of the economy, people are not being supported in setting up their own business.

“This will only get worse as the Scottish Government increases taxes across the board. This will not only discourage new start-ups, but risks driving away those businesses already in existence.

“These figures must act as a stark reminder to the nationalists about what their priorities ought to be. If they continually make life harder for businesses, large and small, everyone will pay the price.”

The number of medium-sized (50 to 249 employees) enterprises decreased between 2016 and 2017 to 3,855 – down 65 – and an increase of 505 since 2000.

The number of large businesses (with 250 or more employees) remained at 2,365 from the year before, up 120 since 2000.

The Business in Scotland 2017 report shows that the two largest industry sectors were ‘Professional, Scientific & Technical Activities’ (52,985 enterprises) and Construction (45,940 enterprises). Together, these two sectors make up 27% of all private sector enterprises in Scotland.

The Federation of Small Business said the statistics show that SMEs continue to account for 99% of all Scottish businesses, and provide 55% of Scotland’s private sector jobs.

Andy Willox, FSB’s Scottish policy convener, said: “These figures show that smaller firms are more important to Scotland’s success than ever before.

“As many big private and public organisations downsize and withdraw from local communities, smaller businesses are picking up the slack.

“However, with political and economic uncertainty ahead, policymakers can’t take Scottish business for granted. As we approach autumn budget setting, politicians and officials must give smaller operators the tools to succeed. This isn’t the time for new tax grabs or burdens on local enterprises.”

New statistics also reveal that the number of people being placed in permanent job roles in Scotland last month increased at its fastest rate since 2015.

Scotland continues to have a higher employment rate and lower unemployment rate than the rest of the UK, as well as higher female employment and lower youth unemployment than the UK average. 

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