South East

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The South East is the second largest regional economy in the UK, after London, with a healthy and growing SME community.

Key insights

During 2016, the fastest growing business sectors in the South East were transport and haulage, with almost 1,000 new start-ups, followed by food and drink, and construction.

Water supply and sewerage businesses in the South East have also seen success, having grown by 32%, compared to 19% in the UK overall.

Towns in the South East also witnessed some of the highest growth in business numbers outside of London, with Slough, Milton Keynes and Reading business numbers increasing by 49%, 36% and 31% respectively.

Looking more closely at Slough, the town has seen tremendous growth in the construction, transportation and information and communication fields, with respective increases of 45%, 81% and 108%. Slough's transport connections and proximity to the capital have made it an attractive location for major telecoms companies O2 and Hytera, amongst other businesses that have recently set up in the area.


The region’s SMEs benefit from excellent transport links, including three international airports, the Channel Tunnel, sea ports, and road and rail networks that serve as a gateway to global markets.

Likely for that reason, one characteristic of SMEs in the South East is that they are significantly more likely to export than smaller firms in other regions.

And exporting SMEs are most likely to be found in sectors including manufacturing, wholesale and retail, professional, scientific and technical activities, and information and communication.

More than a quarter of the UK’s manufactured exports come from the region, with the biggest sectors being food and drink, electronics, and wood and paper products.

Did you know?

Research suggests that Oxford University graduates have founded more start-ups that have gone on to become $1bn businesses than any other university in Europe in the last decade. 

And entrepreneurialism appears to be ripe across the region - self-employment in the South East is higher than in the majority of the UK, with 15.8% of people working for themselves, compared to 10.8% in the UK as a whole.

What does the future hold?

Looking forward, a proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport is predicted to add up to £61 billion to the economy and create as many as 77,000 local jobs over the next 14 years.

For further information on the sourced references for the Business Trends data, outside of the Business Population Estimates 2017 and Nomis official labour market statistics 2010 and 2017, please download the information here (PDF, 233MB)

Regional business reports