The UK and Northern Ireland have undergone significant
restructuring in the last fifty years. In the 1970s and
1980s, traditional industrial regions experienced an
economic downturn, partly because large parts of the
machinery and textile industries were closed down or
redeployed as a result of competition from import goods. The
traditional mining industry was greatly reduced in the
1980s. Newer industries, such as the production of
electronic equipment, food and service industries, have
created new growth, especially in the southeast (around
London) and along the south coast. Administration and
support have had the greatest growth, while finance and
insurance has had the greatest decline. The number of
companies closed in 2016 was 328,000, while the number
established was 414,000. The London area tops both
In 2018, 6,961,000 were employed in public enterprises,
while 25,199,000 were employed in the private sector.
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proportion of employees in the service sector has increased
steadily over the last fifty years. In London and the
surrounding area, the service industry is completely
dominant. Financial activity has grown the most, but this
business has also been more exposed to external crises, such
as financial crises and unrest following the UK's decision
in 2015 in a referendum to withdraw from the EU (Brexit).
For a long period, the finance business has contributed
approx. 30 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), but has
shown a slight decline from 2009 to 2018. The London Stock
Exchange is one of the world's foremost, and many foreign
banks are established in the capital. Since 2015, the
uncertainty associated with Britain's imminent exit from the
EU has weakened London's position in the financial world
With Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in the 1980s, a
policy was pursued to make the UK business community more
modern and market-oriented. Large parts of industry, energy
supply and petroleum extraction, transport,
telecommunications and more were privatized during the
1980s. The Labor Party governments from 1997 to 2010 have
largely pursued this policy. Since Scotland gained internal
autonomy in 1999, the Scottish Government has to some extent
worked for the public sector to have a somewhat larger role
in business and in public business than the British
governments, regardless of party background, have wished.
In the 2000s and 2010s, the UK economy is one of the
strongest in Europe. Inflation, interest rates and
unemployment are low. The uncertainty following the
referendum, which in 2016 gave a majority for the UK to
leave the EU, has weakened the economy somewhat in recent
years (per 2018).
Northern Ireland has in many respects been regarded as an
economic problem area, with internal turmoil and peripheral
location. Various support schemes have been established,
both for local and foreign enterprises, with a view to
gaining greater industrial breadth.
Agriculture, forestry and fishing
Agriculture, forestry and fishing employed 351,000 people
About 69 per cent of the UK's land is grazing or
agricultural land; 25 per cent is cultivated land.
Agriculture is mainly intensive, with a high degree of
mechanization and the overall degree of self-sufficiency is
high, especially when it comes to products such as eggs,
milk, meat, potatoes, wheat and barley, while fruits and
vegetables have to a large extent been introduced. The UK
produces 60 per cent of the food consumed.
Since World War II, there has been a shift in agriculture
towards greater farming and more emphasis on animal
husbandry. Following membership in the EU, large farms have
received financial assistance at the expense of small family
farms, which has contributed to a significant increase in
productivity. However, agriculture is largely run in
combination with other occupations.
A large part of marginal arable land has been laid out
for grazing land, which today accounts for almost 70 per
cent of the total agricultural area.
In Scotland, Wales and western England, livestock farming
is the dominant mode of operation, and lowland pastures can
be used mostly year-round. The large areas of rough
grazing land in the Highlands of Wales and Scotland as
well as Northern Ireland, are mainly used for sheep grazing.
The number of employed in Irish agriculture has fallen
sharply over the past 20-25 years, but the merger of farms
has provided better living conditions for the remaining
farmers. Main agricultural products are meat, milk and eggs
as well as flax and malt barley.
Eastern England has rich soil, relatively dry and sunny
climates and is more cultivated than the areas in the west
and north. Wheat, barley and sugar beets are mainly grown in
East Anglia and the East Midlands, while oats are grown in
the humid areas of western England, Scotland and Northern
Ireland. Northern Ireland is a surplus area for potatoes.
Hops for breweries and fruit are grown especially in Kent,
Sussex and Hereford and Worcester. Nurseries often occupy
areas close to the big cities and tomatoes, vegetables and
flowers are important greenhouse products.
The forestry industry is modest, but a fairly extensive
forestry over several decades is gradually increasing. The
forest covers about thirteen percent of the land area. The
woods in England are mostly deciduous forests; in Scotland
larger elements of coniferous forest. The replanting takes
place to a significant extent in Scotland and Wales; mainly
The fishing industry is particularly important for the
coastal areas of Scotland and the North Sea ports of
England. Fisheries have declined since 1970, partly due to
overfishing, but also reduced catch areas as a result of the
establishment of economic zones in the sea around the
coastal states. EU membership meant opening their own waters
to other countries' fishing fleets. Restrictive quotas were
also introduced. From the first part of the 1990s, catches
increased again. Coastal fishing is conducted along the
entire coast, but mostly in the north. The most important
fish species are mackerel, herring, haddock and cod.
Farming of salmon, trout and shellfish has become a
growth industry after the reduction in deep sea fishing,
especially in the western parts of Scotland. Hull, Grimsby,
Lowestoft and Fleetwood, North Shields (England), Milford
Haven (Wales) and Aberdeen, Mallaig, Lerwick and Peterhead
(Scotland) are the main fishing ports. The United Kingdom
was among the leading whaling countries until the cessation
ceased in 1963.
Mining and energy
Mining, energy and water supply employed 587,000 people
Mining has long traditions in the United Kingdom, and the
coal deposits formed the basis for the country's industrial
development towards the end of the 18th century. In the
early 1800s came around 3/4 of world
production of coal from the United Kingdom. Since World War
II, coal production has declined, partly as a result of
competition from other energy sources, and many mines have
been closed down. In 1994, the coal industry was privatized
and the Coal Authority took over from British Coal. The
workforce was greatly reduced.
Besides coal, crude oil and natural gas are the country's
most important mineral resources. Gas production started in
the late 1960s, while petroleum extraction first began in
1975. The North Sea gas comes mainly from fields in the
southern part of the North Sea, east of Norfolk and
Lincolnshire; the oil fields are further north, east of
Scotland and Shetland.
Tin and tungsten are also extracted in Cornwall, copper
in Wales and Scotland, zinc in Wales and basalt, gravel and
limestone in Northern Ireland. By the way, building blocks
(limestone, slate, granite), some salt, clay for bricks and
ceramic products, kaolin for the porcelain industry are
extracted. Iron ore production ceased in the 1990s.
The UK's petroleum fields in the North Sea are an
important source of income. The picture shows one of British
Petroleum's platforms on the British Continental Shelf. The
image is taken from the paper lexicon Store Norwegian
Lexicon, published 2005-2007.
In 2016, gas power accounted for 40.2 per cent of energy
consumption, nuclear power 20.1 per cent, wind power 10.6
per cent, coal 8.6 per cent, bioenergy 8.4 per cent, oil 7.8
per cent, solar energy 2.8 per cent, and hydropower 1.5
percent. In the last couple of decades there has been a
significant transition from fossil power to renewable energy
in the UK. As recently as 1990, as much as 67 percent of
energy consumption was coal-based, and 12 percent was
oil-based. Gas, wind, solar and bio-energy, which together
cover almost 2/3 of UK energy consumption, were virtually
non-existent as energy sources in 1990.
A number of technical innovations in the latter half of
the 18th century gave rise to the industrial revolution and
made Britain the world's first industrialized country. In
addition to the technical inventions, the economic
foundation was created through colonial trade and shipping,
as well as a rich supply of raw materials both in the home
country and from the colonies. After World War II, the
United Kingdom struggled with much obsolete and heavy
industry, and experienced a marked decline in industrial
employment, especially in the heavy and textile industries.
This particularly affected the industry in Northern England,
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland where they received the
highest unemployment figures. The industry's share of GDP
fell from 36 per cent in 1960 to 25.1 per cent in 2005.
In the latter part of the 1980s, the United Kingdom again
saw industry growth, partly because the rationalizations had
contributed to modernization and made the industry more
competitive, but also as a result of increased focus on new
and more market-oriented products. During the 1980s, the
industry was significantly privatized. During the period
1979-1991, state ownership of the industry was reduced by
about 65 per cent.
England's traditionally most important "
Manufacturing Belt" is located on an axis between
Lancashire and Yorkshire in the north, via the Midlands to
the London area in the south. In the north, the industry was
built around the coal and iron ore clay at the Pennines, and
there is still considerable industry here, but today far
more versatile. The most important cities are Liverpool,
Manchester, Leeds and Bradford. To the south are Sheffield
(steel industry), Nottingham, Derby and Leicester
(knitwear). To the west, in the West Midlands, with
Birmingham, as its most important city, developed into a
versatile workshop industry early on. Its central location
gave the area a favorable market position, and part of the
London area's growth was channeled here. Northwest of
Birmingham lies The Potteries with its center of gravity in
Stoke. The clay deposits here formed an early basis for the
area's clay and porcelain industry.
In the north-east of England there are important
industrial areas around the cities of Newcastle and
Sunderland. Teesside has a landing terminal for oil from the
Norwegian sector (Ekofisk) in the North Sea as well as oil
refineries. Scotland's industry is mainly located in the
central parts of the country, with Glasgow and Edinburgh as
the main industrial centers. The previously so large-scale
heavy industry has been significantly reduced, as are the
many yards between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of
Higher tech-based industry is now investing in industrial
development. Scotland has some traditional export-oriented
industries, such as the textile industry (knitwear, tweed),
the food industry and whiskey.
Northern Ireland has its industrial center of gravity in
Belfast. The most important is the production of food and
beverages as well as tobacco products, textiles, clothing,
means of transport and equipment. The traditionally
important industries such as the textile industry and the
shipbuilding business have slowed down.
Southern Wales, with Cardiff as its center, has
traditionally had industry built up around the rich coal and
iron ore clays in the area. Today's industry is far more
differentiated with food, graphic and other lighter
By commodity value, the engineering industry, with large
military production, is the chemical, electronic and textile
industry most important.
The tourism industry employed 1 667 000 people in 2011.
Most tourists leave London with its many and varied
cultural and entertainment offerings, but cities such as
Winchester, Canterbury, Oxford, Cambridge, Hastings,
Edinburgh and Glasgow are tourist destinations, as are the
Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. In 2017, the UK was
visited by 39.9 million tourists, which led to a sharp rise
in British luxury products such as Burberry and higher
rental costs on Bond Street than on the Champs-Élysées.
Stonehenge's past memory north of Salisbury had 1,582,500
visitors in 2017.
The UK has significant car, bike and hiking tourism. The
country has fifteen national parks: Brecon Beacons, Broads,
Cairngorms, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, Loch Lomond and
the Trossachs, New Forest, Northumberland, North York Moors,
Peak District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia, South Downs
and Yorkshire Dales.
In 2016, historic sites, buildings and similar sites
traded for £ 574 million.
The UK's foreign trade has traditionally been high, which
is partly due to the lack of many commodities and the
necessity of export for specialized industrial products.
Trade relations with the Commonwealth have long been of
fundamental importance, but have declined sharply since the
1960s, especially at the expense of trade with
industrialized countries in Western Europe and the United
States. From being a commodity importer, the UK is now a net
importer of finished goods from cheaper producing countries.
For a long time, the United Kingdom has had regular
deficits in trade in goods abroad. The loss is covered,
among other things, by foreign exchange income from services
and transport and by interest and other financial income.
Transport and Communications
The transport network is well developed in the UK,
especially in England, which has one of the densest road and
rail networks in the world. Large parts of the transport
sector are privatized, including British Airways and the
The United Kingdom today has a very dense road network; a
shift in both freight and passenger traffic from rail to
road has also led to strong expansion of the motorway
network. The main road network forms a star pattern with
London as the center, and most of the motorways are on the
main road connections to and from London. In total, the road
network is 422 100 kilometers.
The world's first regular railroad was opened in 1825
between Stockton and Darlington west of Middlesbrough.
Throughout the 19th century, there was an intense railway
development which outperformed the other means of transport,
in most cases also channel transport. The railways were
developed privately, often with competing companies on the
same routes, and were completely dominant in land transport
until around 1920, when car transport began to take effect.
Since then, the railways have had a significant reduction in
the share of total transport, and the line network has been
significantly reduced, especially after the railways were
nationalized and combined into one company in 1948. In 1961
the UK had almost 29,000 kilometers of rail, in 2017 the
total the line length reduced to 15 799 kilometers. However,
competition from road and air transport has been met with
the introduction of ever faster trains. In 1994, a rail link
was established with France via the Eurotunnel. London has a
very well-developed subway network.
Air traffic carried about 236 million passengers in 2017,
a figure that is expected to rise to 465 million by 2030.
About one-fifth of the journeys were made domestically, a
figure that drops due to competition with rail, especially
on the main routes, such as between London and Manchester..
Domestic air traffic is well developed, with close to 50
airports with scheduled traffic. The main airports are
Heathrow and Gatwick outside London (both among the world's
busiest), Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham. In 1991, a new
terminal opened at Stansted outside London. Read more in the
London airports article .
The United Kingdom is an ancient maritime nation and has
over 400 ports. The main ports by volume are London
(Tilbury), Forth, Grimsby and Immingham, Tees and
Hartlepool, Sullom Voe, Milford Haven, Liverpool and
Southampton. Dover is the main port for the English Channel.
The UK has a number of boat connections with the continent.
There is a fairly extensive network of channels. Canal
construction started with the construction of the
Bridgewater Canal at Manchester in 1761, and canal transport
played a significant role in the first phase of the
industrial development of the country. The canals were
nationalized and put under joint management in 1948 (from
the 1962 British Waterways Board, closed in 2012).
Commercial canal traffic is quite modest today, but there is
some yacht and tourist traffic on inland waterways.
Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Foreign trade as a percentage by country 2017
Percentage EXPORT by main product groups 2017
|Machines and transport equipment
|Medicines and pharmaceutical products
|Scientific and photographic products
PERCENTAGE Import by main product groups 2017
|Medicines and pharmaceutical products
|Vehicles except cars
|Scientific and photographic products