Business Articles

The Top 20 Best UK Industries in 2021

July 6, 2022

The UK’s economy and industry is in a complicated spot because of Brexit and the COVID-19 crisis.

However, some of its key industries still find a way to be relevant and even grow under these circumstances in the long term.

In this article, you are about to read about the top UK industries by revenue, by employment, and the influence of Brexit and COVID-19 on the UK’s economy as a whole.

When looking at the United Kingdom’s economy we can see that it is prospering more than ever.

Since the ’70s, it has now reached its lowest unemployment rate. Which is obviously good for UK Industries.

By rapidly developing over the years, the UK market has raised its GDP. Now it is one of the largest in the world and ranked 22nd just by looking at GDP per capita.

London has one of the world’s top financial centres, this explains why UK industries are so relevant.

Industry impacts economy

Great Britain has a gross domestic product of 2.83 trillion dollars in 2019 with a population of around 66 million. It is the sixth-largest economy after the US, China, Japan, Germany and India. Note that the UK includes England, Scotland, Wales and North Ireland.

The economy of the UK is quite diverse and has therefore a large array of key sectors. In the following section of “The Top 20 UK Industries in 2021”, you will read about these sectors.

Some key industries

What are the major UK Industries? The services industry is the largest sector in the whole UK according to the UK Office for National Statistics. It amounts to three-quarters of the Gross domestic product.

What is the service industry exactly? It is compromised of many other industries which include finance and business services and consumer-focused industries (examples like entertainment, food and beverages and retail).

Next up, manufacturing and production only amount to 21% of the Gross Domestic product whereas agriculture just 0.60%.

Looking at the manufacturing sectors according to The Blue Book: 2019 from UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), it only grew 0.4% even after experiencing a growth in 2017.

On the contrary, the construction output dropped by a meagre 0.4% in 2018. 

Within the UK manufacturing sector, the food products division is the largest, yet it boasted a decrease in sales of 0.9 billion British Pounds in 2019 from 2018.

The service industry’s growth over 2 years (numbers from 2018) by 2.1%. Brexit has had its influence on the matter, slowing down the overall real household consumption.

Another important sector according to the ONS is the Tourism sector, which was making the UK earn a lot of money in 2019. The visitors of the UK spent over 28.4 billion pounds on travel and tourism. At the peak seasons, tourism grows by 9% on a yearly basis. Visit Britain, the tourism website of the UK shows that visitors from overseas spent around 2.34 billion pounds in 2019 which is 13% more than in 2018.

Industries by revenue

Below, a list of the top UK Industries by revenue in 2021. Confident to say there are no big surprises.


Estimated Revenue for 2021: $189.9B

The supermarkets’ industry in the UK businesses has seen an increase for the last five years. The main reasons for this are: aggressive expansion of discount supermarkets, the consumers’ shopping habits have changed and increased external competition. Price wars between competitors have made sure that even the largest operators had to cut their prices. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused nationwide lockdowns and the closure of the medical sectors.

This, in turn, led to the supermarkets being the prime supplier of food because of the government restrictions on imports. Thus, this industry’s revenue is said to grow with an annual rate of 0.5% throughout 2020 and 2021 and this for five years.

Pension Funding 

Estimated Revenue for 2021: $155.9B

Another big one in UK industries. Over the last 10 years, the pension industry that consists of defined contribution schemes and defined benefits schemes has evolved due to the continuous shift between these two schemes. The speculated impact in 2020-2021 of the DB and the DC will be respectively 61% and 39% of the total industry asset.

This industry’s revenue has been increasing over the last five years. Industry revenue is calculated by combining contributions and investment returns. This information is important because being lit by the phased introduction of automatic enrolment in pension schemes, the increased contributions were lit. This was fully phased only in 2018 but began around October 2012.

Construction Contractors 

Estimated Revenue for 2021: $121.8B

The construction Contractors industry is broader than what many think. Not only it is handling building construction and civil engineering markets, but a few operators are also paid for fulfilling maintenance, repair, for completing new building and infrastructure construction contracts etc.

Three main “activities” can be recognised and demanded:

  • independent contractors that focus mostly on small scale contracts
  • contractors focus on the construction of new residences
  • civil engineering handles the client’s services throughout the value chain of infrastructure

This industry has a quite large importance in the overall industries in almost every country and the UK is no exception.


Estimated Revenue for 2021: $112.0B

There are two types of banks, retail and commercial ones, but they have the same way of generating most of their money. This can be through two ways:

  • the first one is to charge interest on loans
  • the second one where the revenue is derived from non-interest income from overdrafts and card fees

Over a span of five years, this industry is said to decline, however. The compound annual rate at which it will decline is 2% to 99.8 billion pounds. During the last five years, the income of the banking industry has been affected negatively due to a low-interest-rate environment from loans.

There has been economic uncertainty since the famous EU referendum and that has led to a restricted demand for mortgages. All the while what reduced demand for commercial loans was subdued business confidence.

New Car & Light Motor Vehicle Dealers

Estimated Revenue for 2021: $98.4B

This industry has always been a part of the main industries. And yet over the last five years, it has fallen due to the economic uncertainty since the EU referendum. The demand for new cars in 2016-2017 was promoted by the rise of disposable incomes, financial deals at the time and thanks to the fact that consumer confidence was high.

It is understandable that due to the COVID-19 outbreak the new car sales was compounded with many dealerships closed recently, which caused a sharper drop. The fall is said to be at a compound annual rate of 6.4%.


Estimated Revenue for 2021: $96.8B

This industry provides medical diagnostic and treatment services at general hospitals as well as specialised ones. Over the five years, the revenue is expected to go up at a compound annual rate of 1.6%, eventually reaching £101 billion. The demand has increased due to an ageing population. Failing to keep up with this, public healthcare has made room for more demand for private hospitals as a greater number of patients seek private treatment. 

General Insurance

Estimated Revenue for 2021: $70.9B

The underlying activities of this business are: policies in relation to property, casualty, liability, motor vehicles and other general risks. Both private and commercial clients are targeted in this industry’s services.

Over the five years starting in 2021, the industry’s revenue is expected to drop at a compound annual rate of 0.4%. Investment income has faltered, at the start of the period, due to the Bank of England, interest rate decreases and corporate bond yields were constrained.

Management Consultants

Estimated Revenue for 2021: $61.5B

The Management Consultants industry includes sub-activities such as marketing, strategic and organisational planning, business process management, human resource consulting and IT. It covers a broad range of consulting services.

This industry’s revenue is expected to increase to a staggering 64.1 billion pounds at a compound annual rate of 3.6%. The demand for IT services is mainly the reason for this growth. Furthermore, regulatory changes falling upon the financial services sector, the biggest downstream market, have largely benefited the industry.

Pharmaceutical Wholesaling 

Estimated Revenue for 2021: $61.1B

One of the main characteristics of the pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chain is the fact that it changes constantly. Losing patent protection for several famous drugs downgrades the performance because it tends to lower the revenue obtained from these drugs. 

Despite this and some other blowbacks, opportunities for growth remain. Some operators have consolidated or merged to further broaden their role within the pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chain. This is to help their product portfolios and geographical presence increase as a counter to rising competitive pressures. Pointing out that the pharmaceutical wholesalers have gained a lot from the fact that the population is ageing.

In a span of five years, expect this industry’s revenue to still grow.

Computer Consultants

Estimated Revenue in  2021: $55.9B

The Computer consultants industry provides services to clients in all sectors of the economy. It is composed of businesses that provide expert advice and assistance in planning and designing computer systems that integrate computer hardware, software and communication technologies.

However, clients within the financial services sector and the public sectors are key targets of this market. This industry is said to grow, also thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Industries by employment

Going over the industries ranked by employment, we can see some similarities between the industries ranked by revenue. Here is a shortlist with a few things to note about these industries.


Employment number for 2021: 1,220,923

Same as before with a different outcome. The supermarkets’ industry in the UK has seen an increase for the last five years. Which in turn led to a higher demand for employees.


Employment number for 2021: 838,617

Largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is important to note that the public sector is suffering a bit due to the higher demand for the private sector.


Employment number for 2021: 812,020

This covers a broad range of charitable objectives, from emergency relief and international aid to arts programmes. 

Temporary Employment Placement Agencies

Employment number for 2021: 701,613

This industry’s Businesses supply clients with workers to temporarily replace or supplement the labour force they currently have. The uncertainty of the EU referendum and the COVID-19 pandemic has led businesses to resort more to temporary employment. Because when the economy is strong, there is no need for temporary workers, but these times have made the demand for them grow.

General Secondary Education 

Employment number for 2021: 695,038

This industry has as its goal to provide education to students between 11 and 18 years of age. The schools in the General secondary education industry are funded by local education authorities (LEAs) or the government. The industry also includes privately funded independent schools, however. They are likely to play a big factor in the growth of this industry over the five years from 2020-2021 onwards. 

Direct Selling and Marketing 

Employment number for 2021: 694,519

Providing their services to consumers away from a fixed retailing location and exclusively, the Direct Selling & Marketing industry only operates through personal contact. The industry markets and retails a wide variety of products. Please note that the sale of fuel and food for direct consumption is not part of this industry.

Marketing itself through two methods, being single-level marketing (SLM) and multi-level marketing (MLM). The SLM means that representatives earn money solely from commission whereas the MLM means that representatives earn commission from both their sales and those that they have recruited.

Full-Service Restaurants 

Employment number for 2021: 484,693

Over the first few years of the past five-years, the Full-Service Restaurants industry grew sharply.  However, Over the first few years of the past five years, the Full-Service Restaurants industry grew sharply. However, after the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, the cost increases. In addition, the weak consumer demand turned this trend around in the second half of the five-year period. As trends in consumer preferences change, so does his industry’s performance.

Management Consultants 

Employment number for 2021: 443,799

Covering a broad range of consulting services, the Management Consultants industry includes sub-activities such as marketing, strategic and organisational planning, business process management, human resource consulting and IT. Following the trend in revenue, this industry’s employment number also rose over the last five years.


Employment number for 2021: 426,120

In the UK, the cap on undergraduate students was also lifted over the past five years, leading to a rise in student enrolments. The Universities’ industry’s revenue is expected to increase at a compound annual rate of 1.3%, reaching 40.8 billion pounds. Not only thanks to more students, this expansion can also be attributed to rising tuition fees and growing investment returns.

Why investments in the UK can help your business

How can we compare UK Industries with other European industries and economies? UK is Europe’s third-largest economy and is set to become the continent’s largest by 2030, but who are the major economic players in this country. Its capital, London, also boasts the highest GDP in Europe, making the UK an important centre for international investors.

Having a market capitalization of over $6 trillion, The London Stock Exchange, is the third-largest stock exchange in the world.

Investing in the UK: Risks & Benefits

Investing in UK industries should be considered a safe bet. However, everything has its advantages and disadvantages.

Benefits of investing in UK industries:

Blue Chip Stocks: Shares of very large and well-recognised companies with a long history of sound financial performance are called Blue Chip Stocks. They are renowned for their capabilities to endure tough market conditions and give high returns as market conditions are excellent.

The UK harbours many of the largest blue-chip companies in the world, these include Rio Tinto to BP to GlaxoSmithKline. They are the reason why investing in the region is less of a risk than other financial markets around the world.

Financial Hub: As mentioned earlier, London has one of the most advanced financial markets in the world. This makes the securities market a very stable and liquid one for investors looking for a wider audience than the US.

Some risks to investing in the UK industries:

Service Economy: Almost ¾, around 70% of the UK’s economy is made up of services, not a rare sight for developed countries. This is easily seen as more stability, however, changes in consumer credit and commodity prices can rapidly cause some issues.

Political Risks: The UK left the EU and that can cause major instability for its economy.

UK industries and the Brexit

The Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union in June 2016, formally and officially took effect on January 31, 2020. Ever since a number of non-governmental organizations and government agencies have anticipated that the unclarity around ongoing Brexit negotiations would have a negative impact on the UK industries and economy.

The current reality is that the actual economic impact of Brexit itself is still unclear. The COVID-19 and the lockdowns since the Brexit have had a major influence on a UK economic event which has made it difficult to assess the real cause.

The Institute for Government, through numerous analyses’, has found out that the majority of projections are negative. Ranging from an 18% loss to a 7% gain of economical output as a result of Brexit. 

Research done by the Centre for European Reform has concluded that the cost of leaving the EU for the UK’s public finances amount to 17 billion pounds in 2018 starting from September.

There are areas that were affected according to The UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility, a government agency, following the Brexit negotiations. Business investments and the prospect of less access to foreign markets are included. Declines have appeared in the exchange rate because of this, which are raising inflation and reducing consumer income. And consumer income and spending are contributing less to economic growth as a result.

How can CONNECTS help you?

Working closely with Chambers of Commerce based in the UK, the business matchmaking platform CONNECTS offers international opportunities in several UK industries. The CONNECTS platform figures UK Chambers of Commerce like: 

For each of these Chambers of Commerce, there is a moderator that can help users and their members to find opportunities and build a network utilizing CONNECTS.

We also have communities where topics around the UK economy is discussed. If you are looking for insights from UK professionals, consider visiting the Get Inspired: Learn and Exchange for Digital Success community on our platform. Looking to know more about Brexit and the opportunities that derive from it? Then consider visiting the “Your place in a Post-Brexit world” community.

To actively use the platform and join these communities, you need to become a member of the CONNECTS platform.

Are you an entrepreneur wanting to discover and develop new opportunities, both locally and internationally? Join our Business Matchmaking Platform and start your free trial.

Already a member of a participating chamber? Join our Business Matchmaking Platform for free.

Want to learn more about CONNECTS? Find us on Google Maps! For more information, don’t hesitate to contact us or request a demo

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