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Scottish entrepreneurs boosting British business

  • Huge growth in number of Scottish businesses joining barcode organisation to trade. Scotland growing faster than any other home nation last year, outstripping England – Northern Ireland lags behind
  • Largest regional increase in East Midlands – up 69%
  • In London, growth in W postcode area leaves EC1 and EC2 behind – despite impact of Silicon Roundabout
  • Number of businesses across the UK joining GS1 UK up 50% in last 12 months
  • But growth across Home Counties still dwarfs that of Northern Powerhouse

London, 13 February 2018 - There has been a 61% increase in the number of Scottish businesses joining barcode organisation GS1 UK to trade, according to the not-for-profit global standards organisation.

Typically, companies join GS1 UK for access to standardised barcodes, allowing them to trade efficiently and opening the door to national and international markets via marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon as well as traditional retailers such as Tesco and John Lewis.

Over the last 12 months, the number of businesses joining GS1 UK rose by 46% across the UK. Scotland saw the fastest growth of any home nation (61%), ahead of England (47%), and comfortably outstripping Wales (7%). Northern Ireland, however, saw no growth – with the same number of businesses joining in 2017 as in 2016.

Scotland 61%
England 47%
Wales 7%
Northern Ireland 0%
Table 1: growth in GS1 UK membership across the home nations


Gary Lynch, chief executive of GS1 UK, said: “Businesses source barcodes from us when they need to identify, trade and track products, helping them save time and money in their supply chain. So a surge in demand for our services – across the country but with some notable hotspots –can tell us a great deal about differences in the economy across the United Kingdom and growth in domestic and international trade. The origins behind this surge in entrepreneurship across the country include changing employment demographics and the need for more flexibility, as well as facilitators such as lower barriers to entry due to the emergences of marketplaces. And this is not a blip. Between 2008 and 2014, the level of self-employment in the UK increased from 3.8 million to 4.6 million.”

Four industries stood out, with 51% of the new joiners in Scotland coming from: Drinks & Beverages, Apparel, Food & Grocery, and Health & Beauty. Health & Beauty made up 8% of the Scottish new joiners, with the Drinks industry (both alcoholic or non-alcoholic) 13% and 14% in Apparel – including clothing, footwear, accessories. 16% of new joiners were from Food & Grocery.

Marketplaces dominated the business models for members in the Apparel sector with 71% selling via Google, eBay, and Amazon. Turnover among joiners from the Food & Grocery industry averaged at £8,592,000. While turnover among joiners in Drinks & Beverages averaged just £403,000, new members ranged from a small business at its launch stage producing soft drinks – to a privately-owned distillery established in 1967.

Gary Lynch said: “Our members tell us there have been some positive developments for trade and entrepreneurship in Scotland – from the £1.1bn Edinburgh City Region Deal package to the Scottish Government’s launch of a £4m fund to attract the world’s brightest entrepreneurs to Scotland and help them develop their ideas for businesses. These are adding to the sense of confidence and purpose across the country.”

Regional picture – London’s supremacy challenged by East Midlands

On a regional basis, the fastest growth was recorded in the East Midlands, where there was a 69% increase in the number of businesses joining the barcode organisation – outstripping growth anywhere else in the UK including London. Meanwhile 1,433 businesses in the capital became members, which represented a 64% rise on 2016.

Gary Lynch said: “The exchange rate is helping Britain’s manufacturers compete for business and the East Midlands has always been the country’s industrial backbone. The region has the highest proportion of manufacturing employment in England, so it is benefiting disproportionately from the pound’s fall. The East Midland is also profiting from new infrastructure investment including the Nottingham Express Transit extension. In the future, the eastern leg of HS2 should boost capacity and connect the region to the European-wide rail network. And the government has announced it will reduce planning restrictions in the East Midlands as part of a pilot manufacturing zone which is set to help the region’s businesses in the future. So, while London may be an incredible global city, we’re seeing new centres of trade springing up and, little by little, its dominance is being challenged. The capital’s growth is being constrained by poor infrastructure, a shortage of affordable housing, and a higher cost of living.”

North West 51%
North East 24%
Yorkshire & the Humber 48%
West Midlands 28%
East Midlands 69%
Eastern 32%
South West 29%
London 64%
South East 39%
Table 2: Growth in membership across English regions


In London, more businesses became members in the W, N, E, and SW postcode areas than did in the EC postcode area, the home of Silicon Roundabout, with 170 based in the W postcode, compared to 138 in the EC postcode area. However, EC1 and EC2 did see 188% growth in members joining in 2017 than 2016, making EC the fastest-growing postcode area in the country.

Performance of the northern powerhouse

The rate of growth across the Northern Powerhouse was dwarfed by that across the Home Counties. The number of businesses joining GS1 UK across the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, and Newcastle rose by 44% – less than the national average. While London saw a 64% increase in membership, 50% more businesses joined GS1 UK from the home counties – Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Herefordshire, Kent, Middlesex, and Surrey.

Gary Lynch added: “In 2014, the government announced the country's need for a "Northern Powerhouse" in an attempt to corral the North's population of 15 million into a collective force that could begin to rival that of London and the South East. One of the main planks was an improvement in transport links between the North's major cities, allowing them to work together as part of one major economy, rather than competing against one another. But in June 2015, the electrification of the TransPennine route was suspended and the Northern Powerhouse has dropped out of the top five government priorities. It will take more than the appointment of a Powerhouse minister to kickstart entrepreneurship across the north of England.”

- ENDS -

Notes to editors

For further information or requests for interviews, please contact Tim Haidar: 020 7092 3584 /

About GS1 UK

GS1 UK is a community of over 33,000 members working in retail, foodservice, healthcare and more. GS1 UK is one of 112 independent, not-for-profit GS1 organisations operating across 150 countries worldwide. GS1 UK helps everyone involved in making, moving and trading goods, automate and standardise their supply chain processes using the common language of GS1 global standards.