What is the sterling value of the UK research industry?

MRS estimates that the UK research insight and analytics industry has a sterling value of at least £7,000,000,000, a +40% uplift on the previous estimate of £5bill.  This expanded industry is estimated to employ at least 64,000 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 73200 (market research and opinion polling), and 72200 (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, published in this Report.

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 June 2021, estimates that the sterling value of UK businesses choosing SIC code 73200 is £4,814,000,000.  A further £403,000,000 is generated by firms with SIC code 77200.

However, there are a great many firms operating inside ‘the business of evidence’ arena who have not self-specified SIC codes 73200 or 72200, 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 2019 returned a sterling turnover of £3,756,000,000.  £1.931,000,000 was generated by 67 firms with an SIC code of 73200, or 72200;  and the remaining £1,825,000,000 sterling value was generated by 33 businesses that are active in the research sector but who are classified under SIC code(s) other than 73200 or 72200.  Examples of these codes include 62090 (other IT and computer services), 70229 (management consultancy) and 82990 (other business support services).

The SIC 73200 and 72200 firms in the ABS, together with the 33 firms who are not SIC 73200 or 72200 in the Top 100, total to £7,042,000,000.

This is already a conservative estimate.  The inclusion of just some of the many smaller enterprises not featured in the League Tables that do operate within ‘the business of evidence’ but which do not self-classify under SIC code 73200 or 72200, will expand this estimate of industry turnover value yet further.

How many workers are in the UK research sector?

Business population estimates developed for the government’s Business Register and Employment Survey 2019, suggest that c. 47,000 people work in companies with SIC codes 73200 or 72200, of which 33,000 (67.8%) are full-time, and 14,000 (32.2%) part-time.  This is so close to the national average of 68.5% / 31.5% that we can reasonably pro rate from (£5.086b+£0.417b) to £7.328b to estimate that the total UK research sector employs at least 64,000 workers, of which c. 45,000 are full-time, and c. 19,000 are part-time.  This implies an average turnover generated per worker of c. £110,000.

The sub-Top 100, non-SIC 73200/72200 company workforces are not yet included in this estimate.

Nearly three quarters of the SIC 73200/72200 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 current Register indicates that there are 3,310 enterprises with SIC code 73200, and 615 with SIC code 72200.  Adding in the 33 non-SIC 73200/72200 enterprises identified in the Top 100 League Tables yields at least 4,000 enterprises engaged in ‘the business of evidence’.

That is before taking into account any sub-Top 100, non-SIC 73200/72200 enterprises.

Turnover Change 2020 – 2021

As of mid 2021, our best estimate of turnover change between 2020 and 2021 is a contraction in industry size of -4.7%.  The estimate is based on the Annual Survey conducted each year by MRS among CPS companies, supplemented by the MRS Quarterly Trends analysis, as well as official fiscal returns published to date.

You can see the latest MRS League Tables in the Research Live Industry Report 2021.

Get the latest MRS news

Our newsletters cover the latest MRS events, policy updates and research news.