South West sees surge in high growth firms

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Authored by News Desk
Posted Saturday, February 20, 2016 - 3:49pm

The South West has seen some of the biggest increases in the number of high growth firms in the whole of the UK since the recession, new research shows.

Analysis by the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC), the UK’s leading independent institute for research into small and medium size businesses, shows that the number of ‘high-growth firms’ (HGFs) across the UK has risen to 11,855 – the largest number since the dotcom boom of the early 2000s.

According to the OECD’s definition, a HGF is a firm that has at least 10 employees and records an annual average growth of 20% in employment over three years. In 2012-15, HGFs accounted for 7.5% of all firms of this size in the UK.

HGFs are regarded as important ‘bellwethers’ of economic vitality because, despite accounting for a small proportion of all firms, they generate a disproportionately large share of the increase in jobs. ERC research has shown that HGFs create around a third of the increase in private sector jobs in the three-year periods over which they are measured.

London continues to have the largest number of HGFs both in absolute terms and as a proportion of its population of 10+ employee-businesses among the English Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas (2,430 in 2012/15 or 9.5% of all firms of 10+ employees in the capital). 

However, a striking trend since the recession of 2008/9 has been the rapid increase in HGF numbers in areas outside London. The data shows that some parts of England are displaying a dynamic not previously observed that is enabling them to close the longstanding gap with the capital.

In the South West, West of England LEP - covering Bristol and Bath – saw its number of HGFs go up by 62% from 2009-12 to 2012-15 (from 154 to 250). Heart of the South West (covering Devon and Somerset) saw its figure increase 47% (from 186 to 274), while Cornwall’s numbers went up 56% (from 61 to 95). Furthermore, West of England had the third highest rate of HGFs as a proportion of all firms with 10 or more employees in England, at 8.4%.

Excluding London, England saw its number of HGFs rise by 36% from 2009-12 to 2012-15, from 5,755 to 7,855, making up 7.2% of all 10+ employee-businesses. Over the same period, the number of HGFs in London rose by just 15%, from 2,105 to 2,430.

Scotland increased its number of HGFs by 35% over the same period, from 534 to 722, while Wales’ figure went up by 38%, from 265 to 365. In both nations, HGFs formed 6.5% of all businesses of 10+ employees in 2012-15.

Professor Mark Hart, Deputy Director of the Enterprise Research Centre, said: “The number of HGFs in the UK is now at its highest level in well over a decade and it’s particularly notable that both urban and rural parts of the English regions are seeing much more rapid rises in such firms than London.

“These are exactly the sort of firms we need more of in our economy, because they create a huge proportion of overall jobs relative to their small size in the business population.

“Some Local Enterprise Partnership areas appear to be creating the right environment in the recovery period for the emergence of more HGFs. We need to learn the lessons of what’s working to support fast-growing businesses in these areas so we can replicate it more widely.”

Irene Graham, CEO of the Scale-Up Institute, said: “Scaling businesses are vital to our local economies, driving jobs, productivity and opportunity. Supporting these high growth firms in their expansion is crucial. Our large corporates, financiers, universities, local authorities, advisors, and LEPs all have critical roles to play in leaning in to support scaling firms. 

“We have a tremendous opportunity. Let's make sure we are developing the skills, fostering the talent, and creating the international connections to enable the UK’s high growth firms to realise their fullest potential.”