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 statistics.
In 2018, 6,961,000 were employed in public enterprises, while 25,199,000 were employed in the private sector.
The 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 percent 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 somewhat.
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 in 2018.
About 69 percent of the UK’s land is grazing or agricultural land; 25 percent 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 percent 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 of conifers.
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 in 2018.
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 percent of energy consumption, nuclear power 20.1 percent, wind power 10.6 percent, coal 8.6 percent, bioenergy 8.4 percent, oil 7.8 percent, solar energy 2.8 percent, 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 percent in 1960 to 25.1 percent 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 percent.
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 Clyde.
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 industries.
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.
According to Countryaah, 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 railways.
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||14.0|
|Medicines and pharmaceutical products||7.7|
|Scientific and photographic products||3.7|
PERCENTAGE Import by main product groups 2017
|Medicines and pharmaceutical products||6.1|
|Vehicles except cars||4.6|
|Scientific and photographic products||2.7|