What is the sterling value of the UK research industry?

MRS estimates that the UK research insight and analytics industry has a sterling value approaching £9,000,000,000, a +11% uplift on the previous estimate of £8bill.  This expanded industry is estimated to employ at least 70,000 workers, in more than 4,000 enterprises.

The UK research insight and analytics industry, ‘the business of evidence,’ has been succinctly characterized as the: “monitoring, measurement, and understanding of markets and societies in support of well-informed and evidence-based decision-making”.

The revision does not indicate a sudden substantial organic growth in the industry: but rather that the boundaries of what business activities our industry encompasses are continually being re-evaluated and expanded.

MRS’ revised estimate utilises the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code, a mandatory requirement for all companies to self-select when their business is first registered.  Companies can select at least one SIC code (up to a maximum of four), to declare the type of economic activity in which they are engaged.  The two codes that are specific to the research industry are 732 (market research and opinion polling), and 722 (research and experimental development on social sciences and humanities).

The updated estimate is built from two reliable, published data sources:  the Annual Business Survey (ABS) conducted by the Office for National Statistics; and the MRS Annual League Tables of the largest 100 research firms.

The ABS is conducted each year among a sample of c.73,000 businesses, randomly selected by SIC code within area from the universe of c. 2.5mill non-financial businesses.  The turnover estimates derived from the ABS will vary year to year - the sample is drawn afresh for each annual cycle, so is not a time series.

ABS analyses the sterling turnover of companies within more than 700 SIC codes.  The latest survey, updated in May 2023 and covering calendar 2021, estimates that the sterling value of UK businesses choosing SIC code 732 was c. £5,000,000,000.  A further c. £300,000,000 was generated by firms with SIC code 722.

However, there are a great many firms operating inside ‘the business of evidence’ arena who have not self-specified SIC codes 732 or 722, and the other SIC codes they have chosen are also used by businesses which are outside the research/insight/analytics sector.  Thus, they cannot be separately identified in the ABS estimate of the sterling value of each SIC code.

Fortunately, SIC code categorization can be applied to the MRS Annual League Tables.  The Tables are compiled each year from Annual Reports, statutory Companies House returns, the trade press and relevant websites.  Agencies also have the opportunity to send their turnover data direct to the League Tables compiler.

The top 100  businesses in  2021 returned a sterling turnover of £4,452,000,000.  £2,273,000,000 was generated by 66 firms with an SIC code of 732 or 722;  and the remaining £2,179,000,000 sterling value was generated by 34 businesses that are active in the research sector but who are classified under SIC code(s) other than 732 or 722.  Examples of these codes include 62090 (other IT and computer services), 70229 (management consultancy) and 82990 (other business support services).

The implication is that if approaching half (£2.3bill) of the ABS total of c. £5.3bill turnover for SIC 732/722 companies comes from businesses in the Top 100, it is reasonable to assume that the other c. £2.2bill generated by the Top 100 is indicative of at least £4bill in total for non-SIC 732/722 businesses in our sector.

How many workers are in the UK research sector?

Business population estimates developed for the government’s Business Register and Employment Survey 2021, suggest that c. 48,000 people work in companies with SIC codes 732 or 722, of which 34,000 (71%) are full-time, and 14,000 (29%) part-time.  Pro-rating up to cover non-SIC 732/722 businesses implies that at least 70,000 people are employed in the research, insight and analytics sector, c. 49,000 full-time and c. 21,000 part-time.

Nearly three quarters of the SIC 732/722 companies have 4 or fewer workers, very much in line with the national average.

How many enterprises are in the UK research sector?

The Inter Departmental Business Register is the primary reference for SIC codes and is the sampling source for the Annual Business Survey.  It is built mainly from HMRC VAT and / or PAYE records, supplemented by information from Companies House.

The 2022 Register indicates that there are 3,115 enterprises with SIC code 732, and 650 with SIC code 722.  Adding in the non-SIC 732/722 enterprises in our sector yields at least 4,000 enterprises engaged in ‘the business of evidence’.

Turnover Change 2022 – 2023

As of Q3 2023, our best estimate of turnover change between 2022 and 2023 is 11% growth in industry size.  The estimate is based on the Annual Survey conducted each year by MRS among CPS companies, as well as official fiscal returns published to date.

You can see the latest MRS League Tables in the Research Live Industry Report 2023.

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