County Durham’s economy is well positioned to grow. Our workforce and the numbers of people in work are growing, education levels are rising, and productivity levels are improving.

Key to this growth continuing is the creation (birth) of new businesses in the county along with their continued growth and the growth of our established businesses. Increasing the number of businesses in the county is one of the key measures of success agreed by the County Durham Economic Partnership (CDEP) in 2010:

Measure: The number of businesses in the County to increase by 4,300 by 2030 contributing towards the rise in the employment rate.

Current: Number of businesses increased by 310 (2.2%) between 2019 and 2020 and currently stands at 14,105. This is still up 2,660 since 2010.

Factsheet: Business Demography Factsheet (PDF; 450Kb)

Key Messages

    • In 2020 there were 14,105 business enterprises in County Durham, a rise from the previous year of 310,
    • Since 2010 the number of business enterprises in the county has increased by 2,660, an increase of 23.2%. This increase is lower than that seen in the North East and England & Wales (27.9% and 32.3% respectively),
    • There have been increases across all the industrial sector groupings since 2010 with the number of businesses in the Real estate activities; Business service activities sector increasing by 905, giving 3,050 businesses in this sector in 2020,
    • The Distribution; transport; accommodation and food; Information and communication sector had the largest number of businesses with 4,555 in 2020,
    • The number of business surviving into their third year fallen with 57.3% of businesses ’born’ in 2016 surviving into their third year (2019 data) compared to a high of 61.6% of businesses born in 2014 surviving into their third year..

Links to data:

Business – Overall Change

ONS Business counts data reflects snapshot data showing the number active businesses. Latest ONS estimates of the number of active enterprises show there were 14,105 active enterprises in County Durham in 2020, equivalent to 266 businesses per 10,000 population, significantly lower than the England & Wales average (420 per 10,000 population) and similar to the North East average (268).

This is a net increase of 310 (2.2%) businesses since 2019, a higher than regional (1.4%) and national (1.2%) increases.  Between 2010 and 2014 there was very little growth in business numbers (365), however since 2014 there has been an increase of 2,295..

Note: These changes should be interpreted with caution as it may not reflect any pattern of significant underlying growth because ONS changed their methodology as to what counts as a business.


Net Business Growth (2019 data)

Net growth in businesses since 2010 has been positive in general with an estimated increase in number of around 2,505 between 2010 and 2019.  As expected, prior to 2014, growth was negative during the recession (2009 through 2010) and the data indicates that the county was slow to recover post-recession.



Business Births and Deaths (2019 data)

New business registrations are referred to as business births and provide some additional details around underlying trends in business growth, albeit based on less up-to-date information.  In 2019 there were 1,710 business births in County Durham, an increase of 4.3% from 2018.  Similar smaller, changes are noted regionally and national with increases of 1.7% and of 0.8% respectively.  Larger increases were seen between 2012 and 2013 (34.7%, 33.3% and 28.5% respectively), however, these coincided with the roll-out of the new Pay As You Earn (PAYE) Real Time Information (RTI) system, in 2013 so comparisons should be treated with caution.

Following the economic downturn in 2008/09 the rate of business births in the county began to fall, a trend that continued to 2010, with a low of 22.1 births per 10,000 population.  Similarly, national rates fell from 45.8 to 37.5 and during this period the gap between the county and the UK widened.  Birth rates in the county remained low until 2013 but have since to 32.3, nationally rates per 10,000 population 59.9 and remain nearly twice as high as county rates.

Businesses that have ceased to trade are referred to as business deaths.  In 2019 there were 1,400 business deaths in County Durham and is an increase of 7.3% from the number of business deaths in 2018. This is a smaller fall than that seen nationally (19.7% fall)

Since 2007 changes in local business deaths in County Durham largely tracked trends at a national level but at a lower rate (see charts below), until recently.  The death rate of businesses in County Durham and UK increased sharply between 2008 and 2009 to a high of 29.3 per 10,000 population in the county and 46.6 nationally as a result of the recession, both rising above their respective birth rates.

Immediately following the recession business death rates fell to 22.2 in 2011 then started to rise to a high rate of 29.7 per 10,000 population in 2017. In this latest release the rate has again fallen to 26.4, which remains lower than the regional (32.9) and national (52.3) rates.



Business Survivals (2019 data)

The ONS data also provides details around the survival rates of new enterprises. The first release in 2016 covers enterprise births for the years 2010 to 2014 and provides survival rates up to 2015.  Of the 1,130 new enterprises ‘born’ in 2010, 57.5% (650) survived into their third year falling to 41.2% (465) for the fifth year.

Survival rates in the county were slightly higher than across the region and England & Wales in the third year (57.3% and 57.1% respectively) and remained higher than the region after five years (40.7%) but slightly lower than nationally (41.4%).

The 1,305 enterprises ‘born’ in 2011 in the county had a higher survival rate in the third year than those ‘born’ in 2010 of 58.6% (765) but a lower rate by the fifth year of 40.6% (530).  However, the region and England & Wales not only had higher survival rates for these periods than the county (59.4%/42.6% and 60.4%/44.0% respectively), but survival rates improved for the fifth year of the time series.

The latest release of this data in 2020 extends the period to include births in 2019 and the survival rate to 2019.  This now allow analysis for 2014 births for a five-year period which gives a consistent picture of survival rates in their third year for enterprises ‘born’ between 2010 and 2016.

This data shows that three year survival rates across the county steadily increased from 57.5% in 2010 to 61.6% in 2014 (survivals to the year 2017) but have now fallen back to 57.3% in 2016 (survivals to the year 2019) and that they are higher than those across the region (57.3% in 2010 to 54.7% in 2016) and England & Wales (57.1% in 2010 to 51.6% in 2016).


Businesses by Industry

The survey also provides business estimates by industrial sector as classified by the Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activities for 2007 (SIC2007) which classifies business establishments and other standard units by the type of economic activity in which they are engaged.  The estimates in this section are taken from the broad SIC2007 classification of twenty one different sections.  To simplify this further these are then mapped to the Business and Enterprise Framework Groups (nine in total) used by the County Durham Economic Partnership’s Business Enterprise Framework, detailed below:

Business and Enterprise Framework Groups

Agriculture, forestry and fishing
Distribution; transport; accommodation and food; Information and communication
Financial and insurance activities
Real estate activities; Business service activities
Public administration; education; health
Other services and household activities