Scotland: a trading nation

A plan for growing Scotland's exports.

3.1 Scotland's Business Profile

There are approximately 346,000 businesses in Scotland. Of these businesses, around 238,000 do not have any employees. Of the 108,000 that do employ people, 85,000 are micro businesses (less than 10 employees) and a further 17,000 are classed as small businesses (less than 50 employees). Data from the Office for National Statistics estimate that only 11,000 businesses in Scotland export – approximately 3% of the business population.

Of those 11,000 businesses that do export, the vast majority export small amounts in value. Data from the Export Statistics Scotland publication estimate that the top 100 exporters in Scotland export around 59% of all exports (over £19bn of exports). The next 400 exporters are estimated to export 23% of all exports (over £7bn of exports). This means that over 80% of exports are delivered by just 500 businesses – 0.1% of the business population.

This is not unusual. Other business statistics show that just 0.7% of businesses in Scotland are responsible for 45% of employment and 59% of turnover in Scotland. While not as stark as the trade data, this does still highlight the concentration of economic activity within a small number of businesses.

Our Exporting Base Graphic

This is also not unusual in an international context. A recent study of seven European countries found that ‘the top 5% of a country’s exporters account for 69-86% of total exports’(7). It is the performance of these large exporting firms that shapes overall export performance. 

The United Nations Convention on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that the top 1% of exporting firms account for 57% of (non-oil) exports in 2014 and that the ‘concentration is even more extreme at the top of the distribution: the largest 5 firms accounted for 30% of national exports and the top 10 firms accounted for 42%(8).

Back to top